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Read college football’s rule on cut blocks, plus some tips on what’s allowed

Chop blocks, where teammates block a defender high and low, are always illegal. The rules around cut blocks are more complex.

Georgia Tech v Duke Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The rules surrounding blocks below the waist are some of the most complicated in college football.

Whether a block below the waist is legal depends on who’s doing it and where on the field. The stakes are significant, because some teams build cut blocks into their game plans. Plus, the penalty for an illegal block is 15 yards.

First, here’s the NCAA’s full rule dealing with blocks below the waist by the offense:

Linemen with initial position completely inside the tackle box may legally block below the waist inside the tackle box until the ball leaves the tackle box. All other Team A players are allowed to block below the waist only if the force of the initial contact is directed from the front. “Directed from the front” is defined as within the clock face region between “10 o’clock and 2 o’clock” forward of the area of concentration of the player being blocked.


-Team A players may not block below the waist when the block occurs five yards or more beyond the neutral zone.

-Players outside the tackle box at the snap ,or any time after the snap, or in motion at the snap may not block below the waist toward the original position of the ball at the snap.

-Once the ball has left the tackle box, a player may not block below the waist toward his own end line.

Summing that up, for a block below the waist to be legal, it has to:

  • Come within five yards of the line of scrimmage
  • Be from the front, unless it’s by an interior lineman

Whether a block is “below the waist” hinges on where initial contact is made.

The NCAA’s definition:

A block below the waist is a block in which the force of the initial contact is below the waist of an opponent who has one or both feet on the ground. When in question, the contact is below the waist.

An important clarification:

A blocker who makes contact above the waist and then slides below the waist has not blocked below the waist.

Two parts of the cut-block rule are new for 2018:

  • If an offensive player blocks someone below the waist more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage, it’s illegal.
  • Only interior linemen can block below the waist from the side. Everyone else’s blocks below the waist must come from the front. Previously, other offensive players were allowed to low-block from the side as long as they were inside the tackle box — the area five yards in either direction from the snapper, and extending to the offense’s end line.

Another thing: Offensive players can’t block below the waist in the direction of their own end line once the ball has left the tackle box. The prohibition on low blocks beyond five yards should take care of that anyway, unless a player turns around really quickly.

Here’s an example of a legal cut block.

Watch Georgia Tech’s H-back, who a) stays within five yards of the line of scrimmage, and b) dives at a Tennessee linebacker from the front.

And here’s an example of what will be an illegal low block in 2018:

This one’s downfield, and it comes from the side:

This one was called illegal at the time, infuriating then-Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, who thought it was from the front. (That’s between 10 and 2 o’clock.)

A low block isn’t the same as a chop block, which is always illegal.

A chop block is when one player blocks low on an opponent who’s already being blocked high.

That’s a penalty no matter who’s doing it and where they are on the field.