Changes affect clock management, shorten games

Updated: August 9, 2006, 12:13 PM ET

Although the NCAA's standardization of instant replay grabbed many offseason headlines, there are other changes to the rule book in 2006 that might have just as large an impact on the game.

Expert Opinion
 Jim Donnan
The new rule that changes when the clock starts on kicks and first downs is probably as big a change as we've had since we moved the hash marks on the field. By starting the clock at the ready-for-play signal, it cuts down on the number of plays -- about 10-15 per game. It will be more difficult for coaches to get in additional plays or a late-game change of possession.

Teams will have to change the way they run the two-minute drill, which previously started at the snap. Now teams have to be on the field and ready to go when the official gives the sign. On changes of possession, defensive coaches used to wait to call their system until they saw the offense's grouping, but now they have to be ready to go immediately. We'll most likely see bigger first-down plays because the D won't know who the offense has on the field.

The time change benefits defenses, which won't have to defend as many plays. Lesser defenses will like the change because they'll be on the field less. Conversely, offenses will probably take more shots and risks, since they will have fewer opportunities. For teams that run the wishbone or have a dominant running game and like to milk the clock, these rules will help them with ball control. For really good teams, however, it won't make a difference.

Most coaches I've talked to aren't real happy about the changes in clock management. The TV people like it because it will keep the games in the allotted window.

The height of the kicking tee will also make a big difference for the sport's weaker kickers. While the great kickers have the leg strength to boot the ball, most will not. This rule change will have a similar effect as the NFL's decision in 1994 to move the kickoff back 5 yards to the 30-yard line. It increased the number of returns and changed the field position. With a shorter tee, balls are not going to travel as high or as far. There won't be an automatic touchback when people kick off.

-- Jim Donnan, former Georgia and Marshall coach and ESPN analyst

1. Eye shields (Rule 1-4-5-s) Change: Eye shields that are not clear are not permitted.

Rationale: This seemingly small rule change was motivated by medical concerns. When checking players for concussions and other brain injuries, trainers were unable to see through the shaded eye shields without detaching the shields from the helmet. This change saves medical staff vital seconds in determining the severity of a player's injury.

2. Kicking tee (Rule 2-15-4-c)

Change: A kicking tee may not elevate the ball's lowest point more than 1 inch above the ground.

Rationale: Enacted to reduce the number of touchbacks and increase the number of kickoff returns, this rule change will also help prepare players for the pro game, which uses the lower tee.

3. Game clock (Rule 3-2-5, 3-2-5-e)

Change: When the ball is free kicked, the game clock will start. When Team B is awarded a first down, the game clock will start on the ready-for-play signal.

Rationale: One of the goals in revising the rules was to shorten the length of games. The game clock will now start when the ball hits the kicker's foot on free kicks and kickoffs, and when the referee signals the ball is ready for play on first downs, instead of at the snap. Many coaches believe these changes will eliminate 10-15 plays per game.

4. Excessive noise (Rule 3-3-3-f-4)

Change: The referee's discretionary timeout for excessive crowd noise has been deleted.

Rationale: Largely unenforceable, this rule caused more problems than solutions.

5. Fouls (Rule 7-1-3-b, 7-1-4-b)

Change: Fouls concurrent with the snap on scrimmage kick may be enforced at the previous spot or the succeeding spot.

Rationale: For live-ball fouls occurring at the snap on scrimmage kick plays, the penalty may be enforced at the previous spot or succeeding spot. Receiving teams can opt to add a 5-yard penalty onto the end of a return, rather than require a rekick.

6. Extra point (Rule 8-3-2)

Change: If a touchdown is scored during a down in which time in the fourth period expires, the try shall not be attempted unless the points would affect the outcome of the game.

Rationale: This is just a change of wording to clarify the existing rule.

7. Halftime (Rule 3-2-1-b)

Change: The intermission between halves, which begins when the field is clear of all players and coaches, shall be 20 minutes. The home team administration may lengthen or shorten the 20 minutes by previous agreement of the visiting team administration.

Rationale: This is an attempt to shorten the game.

8. Instant replay (Rule 12)

Change: Instant replay and coaches' challenge will be uniform throughout Division I-A, but not mandatory. (Rule 12) Instant replay is the sole discretion of the home team. The visiting team does not have the option of requesting or declining its use. In order to reverse an on-field ruling, the replay official must see indisputable video evidence through one or more video replays provided to the monitor. The replay official and the crew will review every play and may stop a game if there is enough evidence to believe an error was made and that the reversal would have a direct affect on the game. In addition, the head coach of either team can challenge the on-field ruling once per game by requesting a timeout before the ball is put into play. If the ruling is reversed, the coach will not be charged with the timeout.

Scoring plays, out of bounds plays, passes and recovery of loose balls are reviewable when they take place at a sideline, goal line or an end line. Reviewable plays involving passes include passes ruled complete, incomplete or intercepted anywhere in the field of play; a legal forward pass touched by an ineligible receiver or a defensive player; a fumble ruled on the part of a potential passer; a forward pass or forward handing ruled when a runner is beyond the line of scrimmage or after a change of possession; and a pass ruled forward or backward when thrown from behind the line of scrimmage.

Other reviewable plays include a runner judged not to have been down by rule; a runner's forward progress with respect to a first down; touching of a kick by any player; the number of players on the field; a scrimmage kicker beyond the line of scrimmage when the ball is kicked; clock adjustment when a ruling on the field is reversed; and a fumble recovery during a fourth down or a try and before any change of possession.

Rationale: Instant replay has gained popularity in its two years in existence, and this makes it uniform throughout Division I-A.

Editor's note: This information is courtesy of the NCAA.