Eye black messages, wedge blocks out
INDIANAPOLIS -- Eye black with messages and wedge blocks will be banned from college football this fall, and taunting in the field of play will start costing teams points in 2011.
On Thursday, the NCAA's Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved the three rules changes.
One year after the NFL banned wedge blocking on kickoffs because of safety concerns, the NCAA followed the lead. The new rule says that when the team receiving a kickoff has more than two players standing within two yards of one another, shoulder to shoulder, it will be assessed a 15-yard penalty -- even if there is no contact between the teams.
The reason: NCAA studies have shown that 20 percent of all injuries occurring on kickoffs result in concussions.
"Everybody is looking to make sure we have a safe environment for the players," said Grant Teaff, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association. "On kickoffs, you have a lot of steam on both sides and you usually have what is called a 'wedge buster.' This will eliminate some of that."
The hope is it will reduce concussions, an issue that has received greater attention over the past year.
The NCAA deemed it so important that it made a rare rules change in an off-year of the normal 2-year process.
Texas coach Mack Brown and Indiana coach Bill Lynch agreed that it was time to change the rules to help protect players from the big collisions on kickoffs.
"Studies are showing that we are having more concussions across the country on kickoffs than in the past, so it makes sense to try to find a way to address that," Brown said Thursday. "But we all need to look at the meaning of a wedge block and clearly define it. If we have a clear set of rules on that and officials can call it consistently, we can prepare our players differently on kickoff return blocking and hopefully help better protect our kids."
But it's the taunting rule that will create the biggest buzz.
Currently, players who are penalized for taunting on their way to the end zone draw a 15-yard penalty on the extra point attempt, 2-point conversion attempt or the ensuing kickoff.
Beginning in 2011, live-ball penalties will be assessed from the spot of the foul and eliminate the score. Examples include players finishing touchdown runs by high-stepping into the end zone or pointing the ball toward an opponent.
Lynch called taunting an area that needed to be cleaned up and said he supported taking away scores.
"Just run it into the end zone, how hard is that?" he said after a spring practice. "It is a team game and that's what makes it such a great game."
Celebration penalties following a score will continue to be assessed on conversion attempts or the ensuing kickoff.
"I think one of the reasons it's been looked at is that when a penalty occurs on the field, it's normally taken from the spot," Teaff said. "This was the only occurrence that it wasn't taken from the spot, so they wanted to change that."
Connecticut coach Randy Edsall, chair of the rules committee, has heard concerns from other coaches about both the consistent application and severity of the rule.
"We all think the kids will understand [the rule]," Edsall said. "This will cure those situations. And coaches will emphasize those things a lot more. I think it all comes back to the coach. Do the things the rules tell you. If your kids do something to take touchdowns away, that's something you can control.
"If your kid does that, he is saying he's more of an individual than a team guy. Maybe don't recruit a kid like that."
Taunting has caused an annual debate among college football players, coaches and fans, and last season's big controversy stemmed from Georgia receiver A.J. Green receiving a 15-year personal foul penalty after he caught a go-ahead touchdown pass late in a game against LSU.
The yardage from the penalty was assessed on the kickoff and helped LSU get into position to drive for the winning score. Southeastern Conference officials said later that there was no video evidence to support the flag on Green.
"The rules committee voted unanimously on this. Let's keep the lid on sportsmanship and prevent that type of demeaning," said Dave Parry, the NCAA's national coordinator of college football officiating. "I recall a play a few years ago where a player turned around at the 10 and teased the opponent with the ball. In the past this would be a penalty assessed on the extra point or kickoffs. Now, it's no touchdown."
Parry said the decision to implement the rule in 2011 gives players and coaches ample advance warning.
"This gives the players a year's notice that we're going to be tougher on sportsmanship. Last year it was mentioned that this could become a possibility," Parry said.
He also predicted the penalty would be called "very rarely."
"If it's close to diving into the end zone, most likely it would be ruled that the act ended while in the end zone. We'll be lenient," Parry said. "It's really if it's really bad, for example, if a guy flips the bird at the 10 or high-steps backwards into the end zone or starts a forward roll at the 3-yard line."
The committee also approved a rule that will require all coaches boxes to have television monitors beginning in the fall of 2011.
ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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