Three rule changes to watch in 2011

The 2011 college football season is upon us, and you may wonder what a former NFL guy is doing writing about college football.

Well, this ex-NFL guy officiated for 20 years in college football. I even spent two years as the supervisor of officials for the Western Athletic Conference. In reality, my college career was longer than my pro career. I love college football — really, all football.

So, let’s take a look at three of the key 2011 rule changes that will alter the game:

EXCESSIVE CELEBRATION

Warning to players. You might want to think twice before you taunt an opponent or you perform an excess celebration that brings attention to yourself. This season, if you do it on your way into the end zone, you will be penalized from the spot of your foul and the touchdown will be taken away. If you do it after you score, the touchdown will count and the penalty will be assessed on the extra-point attempt or the ensuing kickoff.

Wow. That’s huge.

Last season, those actions were treated as dead-ball fouls and the score stood.

My opinion: Bad rule change. The penalty is too severe.

The NCAA has done a good job already in reining in its players. You hardly see anybody taunting or demonstrating, and that’s a credit to the players and coaches. Coaches in the NCAA control their players much better than their brethren in the NFL. The 15-yard penalty on the kickoff was enough of a deterrent. More pressure has just been put on the officials. And they call the NFL the "No Fun League"?!

CLOCK SUBTRACTION

Beginning this season, a team that commits a penalty, which causes the clock to stop inside of one minute left in each half, is subject to a 10-second "subtraction." In the NFL, it’s called a runoff.

The NCAA recognized that a team could foul — such as a false start — inside of a minute of either half and gain an advantage from stopping the clock. The clock must be running when the foul occurs.

Sounds logical, but it will be confusing. The rule applies to the offense and defense. What makes this confusing? The fouling team may choose to save the 10 seconds by using a timeout if they have one remaining. The opponents of the fouling team can decline the subtraction, but accept the yardage (only likely to happen in the first half). Referees may end up having to talk to both coaches. And you thought NFL games were long.

My opinion: Good rule change, kinda.

Why would the NCAA adopt this rule and not copy the NFL rule, which has been on the books for decades? The NFL is basically the same on offense but there isn’t a 10-second runoff on the defense. The NFL has worked through the kinks. Why not just copy the NFL rule?

It’s called ego, and it works both ways. Neither the NFL nor the NCAA want to adopt the other’s rules. They each want their own stamp on things. It has gotten better (horse collar and a runner’s helmet coming off), but there are too many differences. Wouldn’t it be nice to spend a weekend watching football and not having to ask one foot or two, when the clock will start or what formation is legal? There are hundreds of rule differences between the levels.

BLOCKING BELOW THE WAIST

Save the legs! The rules makers severely limited the times a player will be allowed to block below the waist. The NCAA took another step toward eliminating blocking below the waist completely. Any offensive player who is lined up outside the normal tight end position will be allowed to block low only straight upfield or toward the sideline adjacent to his starting position. The same applies to a player in motion, even if he is on or inside the tight end position when the ball is snapped. This change will put a dent in the running game. To be fair, there are restrictions on the defense also. Defenders must take on blockers head-on once the ball is five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Many times, you will get a small guy taking on a big guy and the small guy will lose.

My opinion: I’m all for player safety, and I think coaches are, too. This rule, however, is generally disliked by most coaches and I am inclined to agree. It is going to be very hard to officiate. Keeping track of where a player started from, when he blocks low 20 yards downfield, will be tough. I also don’t want to be that small corner who is facing a pulling tackle six yards downfield. I also think the rule makers want to rid the game of all low blocks. If that’s the case, then do it. It would be much easier to enforce and understand.

Let the games begin.