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2017’s 4 new college football rules, briefly explained by the head of refs

Nothing drastic, but at least one of these will get fans riled up at some point this year.

Missouri v Georgia Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

College football’s rulebook has a few changes you should know about before the season begins. There’s nothing as big as last year’s new rule that replay officials can impact targeting penalties, though.

Rogers Redding, national coordinator of College Football Officiating and the NCAA’s former secretary-rules editor for football, explained each of the changes to the National Football Foundation. I’ve added bold for emphasis to his quotes.

1. Horse collar tackles can now include the outside of the jersey.

The nameplate area of the jersey is added to the inside collar of the shoulder pad and jersey as places where it is illegal for a tackler to grab a ball carrier and immediately pull him to the ground.

The committee recognizes that on occasion a tackler grabs the nameplate area and jerks the ball carrier down, with the same effect as if his grip was on the collar.

The point of the rule is to make it so players can’t be dragged down by their upper backs, which can lead to all sorts of injuries. In that sense, it doesn’t matter a whole lot whether the defender’s hand is inside the jersey or outside of it, though this does make it trickier for coaches to teach.

This controversial 2013 play would definitely be a horse collar now:

It’s hard to picture this leading to many more flags than usual, but any fans who don’t know about the change will be aghast when a newly banned call goes against their teams. Good thing you know!

2. No more running starts on field goal blocks.

No defensive player who runs forward from beyond the neutral zone may leap or hurdle in an obvious attempt to block a field goal or try. Before this change, a player committed a foul only if he landed on another player. This year, the committee took note of some players being injured in making these moves when trying to block a place kick.

Short version: The move that won the 2016 Big Ten East is now illegal, because Penn State’s Marcus Allen took a running start:

You can still jump to block a kick. You just can’t try to Troy Polamalu a field goal.

3. Pants must cover knees ... soon.

Beginning in 2018, players’ pants must have knee pads such that the pants and the pads cover the knees. Previously, the rules recommended that the knees be covered, but this was not required. The committee is delaying implementation of the mandate until 2018 because a number of schools have already bought equipment for the year. There is great concern throughout the football world about the tendency for some players to wear “biker’s shorts” that only come to within several inches of the knee. This is a safety issue as well as one that does not present a good look for the game.

When it comes to looks, I’ll trust popular college students before I trust career officials, but these other points are noted.

Why is this even a thing at all? Because Pitt’s Ejaun Price, now of the Los Angeles Rams, was too stylish for this world:

It’s like how the NCAA also made a rule to prevent players from bringing the crop top back.

National Championship - Oregon v Ohio State Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

4. Let’s use the rules we have to keep games from being so goshdarn long.

Since 2008, when games at the FBS level averaged three hours and nine minutes, game time on average in 2016 stretched to three hours and 22 minutes, an increase of 13 minutes. With a growing number of teams running high-powered offenses that generate more plays and more touchdowns, the overall length of games has naturally gone up.

In discussing this trend, the rules committee has not settled on an optimum game length. But the general sense is that times as long as three-and-a-half hours would not be good for the game. As the committee seeks ways to deal with this, there is little support for making rules changes that would take plays out of the game. And so it will look for ways to manage the length of the game by addressing how to manage the dead-ball times. Officials are charged with the responsibility of being efficient in handling dead-ball intervals and plays where the game clock stops, such as incomplete passes.

One point of emphasis for the officials this year will be to have better control of the length of halftime. By rule the halftime is 20 minutes, but there are often some delays in starting the countdown. Also, current rules allow the schools to mutually agree that the halftime will be longer than 20 minutes. One small but perhaps significant editorial change for 2017 is this: the teams will be allowed to agree on a shorter halftime, but they may not make it longer than 20 minutes. And the referees are being instructed to start the 20-minute halftime countdown as soon as the first half ends, per the language of the rule. The hope is that these steps will halt the trend for longer game times.

There are other things we could do to shorten games without forcing teams to change their offenses:

The clock shouldn’t stop for a first down until the last five minutes of a half. This keeps end-of-half scenarios exciting. And there’s no reason for the clock to stop after a 10-yard run on the first play of the game. (If you propose we also keep the clock running after incompletions before the last five minutes, I’m listening.)

Replays should have a time limit. I don’t want to limit the number of potential replays, but if the replay official hasn’t reached a decision after however many seconds, we rule it inconclusive and move on.

And we could ask the TV networks to do something about their commercials, but that’s probably not gonna happen.

Oh also, coaches can be ejected. That was a new 2016 rule, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Here are the coaches our money is on.