Best Seat in the House: 2022 College Football Rules Changes Part 1

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The sound of pads popping, the last few weeks of summer that are coming to an end, and the beginning of the school year hints at the excitement that is about to unfold itself for the millions of dedicated fans of college football. Unbeknownst to many of them (but soon to be knownst [sic] to the many readers of OFD), the work to put on this season does not begin with the Irish annual trek down to Culver academy or even during the summer visits and recruitment. The real beginning to the college football season starts with the annual meeting the Playing Rules and Oversight Panel or PROP as it is colloquially known.

I have discussed for a few years the background of the rules change process and you are free to review some of the previous season’s changes, but if this is your first time allow me to explain how the Football division of the NCAA enacts and implements rules and the rulebook that is used to play our wonderful game. Basically, it is a two-year cycle. In even numbered years, literally anything in the rulebook can be changed. For example, if the PROP decided that it wanted to completely eliminate the kickoff as a means to start a game and instead give the receiving team the ball at the 25-yard line every possession, that rule change would happen in an even numbered year. If they wanted to outlaw mascots from being on the field during games, again, even numbered year change.

Odd numbered years are set aside SPECIFICALLY for safety-related changes and editorial changes. In the exact rulebook it is described:

The committee is able to make changes for the following reasons during [and odd numbered year]:

  • 1. Student athlete safety
  • 2. Adjustments to the rule change from the previous year that is not achieving its intent
  • 3. Changes that have a significant impact on the image of the game

An example for this would be like in 2021 where the team boxes (the area behind the out of bounds lines where team personnel is allowed to stand) was extended from the 25-yard lines down to the 20. This was done because of social distancing concerns, and it was decided that 10 yards on either side of the box would allow for better spacing of players, coaches, trainers and other allowed team-area personnel. An editorial change example would be changing when a team is required to go for two points in overtime from the third to the second OT period.

So now that we have the background in place, let’s start talking about what will be different this year and there are some that will make the game look a LOT different. These are the final drafts of the rule, by the way. I specifically held off writing this article until I knew exactly the rules that would be accepted and the exact wording because as we’ve seen, one or two words can drastically change the interpretation of a foul. This will be a two-part series because there are 7 rules changes, 6 editorial changes and one tabled suggestion. I don’t want this to mimic the OFD 3-hour pod (kidding SD, love that show).

Rule change 1-- Feigning Injury (Rule 3-3-5-b)

Impact – Negligible

There has always been strong wording about doing this and the NCAA has had some kind of statement in the rules about this to try to eliminate it. Before 2021, it was just a Point of Emphasis that had no teeth. It was basically part of the rules where no one would look at it and just say "Yeah ok, sure." Last year, they made it an actual RULE (3-3-5-b as mentioned above) so that it was actually put into a rule reference. But still, it kind of didn’t DO anything because there was, and even this year still is, no penalty that will be enforced on the field. The change this year adds the school’s own conference to the list of entities that can take action on faking an injury. Last year, that decision began and ended with Steve Shaw, the national coordinator. Adding the conference administration SHOULD hopefully speed this up and get things a little closer to the schools committing these unethical acts.

Exact Rule wording:

Feigning an injury is an integrity issue. To curtail a possible time-gaining advantage by feigning injuries, the committee strengthened the appeal process to now include the conference office for further action against violators of the spirit of this rule: b. Feigning an injury for any reason is unethical. An injured player must be given full protection under the rules, but feigning an injury is dishonest, unsportsmanlike and contrary to the spirit of 2 the rules. For questionable game action, an institution or conference has the option to consult the national coordinator of football officials who would then facilitate a video review. After the review, the national coordinator will communicate any findings to the conference office for further action. Attention is directed to the strongly worded statement in The Football Code (Coaching Ethics, Section g)

Rule change 2—Sliding Ball Carrier, aka the "Kenny Pickett Rule" (Rule 4-1-3-r)

Impact – Minor

Here’s the play that created this rule change:

I have to say, that’s a BRILLIANT play and kudos for him for thinking about it. But this year, the ball is dead where he does that. And it makes sense because the NCAA has, for years been trying to protect all players and QBs more than any other. It’s targeting to hit them in the head, it’s roughing the passer to hit them low. They’re considered defenseless basically anytime they’re on the field. Imagine if a guy does this and gets his ass creamed because a defender thinks he’s gonna fake slide and blows him up and gets ejected for targeting. Kind of too easy for the offense to gain an advantage there to get a player ejected for something he might not have done if he knew anytime a player simulates sliding that he’s down. So I think this is a really good change and it’s going to have some impact but it’s not earth shattering.

Exact Rule Wording:

ARTICLE 3. A live ball becomes dead and an official shall sound their whistle or declare it dead:

r. When a ball carrier obviously begins a feet-first slide. Any time a ball carrier simulates or fakes a feet-first slide, the ball should be declared dead by the on-field officials at that point.

Rule change 3 – Illegal Block/Contact on Fair Catch (Rule 6-5-4)

Impact – Minor

I am actually a little surprised at this one and I’m not really sure why they made this less of a penalty. If a player calls for a fair catch and then goes up and blocks someone, personally, I think that SHOULD warrant a 15-yard foul and often, it can be a dangerous play if the gunner is thinking the returner is going to catch the ball but ends up hitting that gunner. That being said, the rules committee decided that this should now only be a 10-yard foul. They do explicitly state, however that if the block is overly egregious, it should be treated as the personal foul and/or targeting and THAT would carry a 15-yard penalty.

Exact Rule Wording:

ARTICLE 4. A player of Team B who has made a valid or invalid signal for a fair catch and does not touch the ball shall not block or foul an opponent during that down (A.R. 6-5-4-I and II).

PENALTY—Free kick: Receiving team’s ball 10 yards from the spot of the foul [S40]. Scrimmage kick: 10 yards, postscrimmage kick enforcement [S40]. If a Personal Foul is committed in conjunction with this action, the penalty is 15 yards and flagrant offenders shall be ejected or disqualified.

Rule change 4 – Targeting Penalty Adjustment

Impact – Negligible

This one is going to be similar to the feigning injury change. All they added was some clarifying verbiage to the review process if a player gets DQ’ed in the second half for targeting. The key words here are "clearly obvious." Before, the rule said that the national coordinator (Steve Shaw) decided that the player should not be disqualified then the conference could vacate the 1st half suspension in the next game. Now, it must be CLEARLY OBVIOUS that there was no targeting which raises the standard for vacating the penalty.

Exact Rule Wording

If a player is disqualified in the second half, the conference has the option to consult the national coordinator of football officials who would then facilitate a video review. Based on the review, if and only if the national coordinator concludes that it is clearly obvious the player should not have been disqualified, the conference may vacate the suspension. If the national coordinator supports the disqualification, the suspension for the next game will remain.

Rule Change 5 – Blocking Below the Waist (Rule 9-1-6)

Impact – Major

This is the BIG one for this cycle and it’s one that, if you have been reading this column for the last few years, I have mentioned will be getting more and more restrictive. This all started back around 2011 with Rogers Redding and the committee finding that knee injuries were one of the most detrimental types of injury players were facing. Sure, the targeting and head injuries were a big problem too but that was mostly done to prevent lawsuits and federal litigation that would have caused major problems for football even existing. But if you ask any player (Jaylon Smith) if they would rather get a concussion or blow out their knees, I guarantee you 100% of them will take the concussion. Head injuries last 2-3 weeks on average but a knee injury costs you an entire season and often can destroy a player’s career.

Therefore, there has been a concerted effort to eliminate low blocking from the game completely. But as Rogers mentioned then, it was not going to be something they could just throw away instantly, it was going to have to take a while to phase it out. And we’ve seen the drastic reduction.

It all began with the direction of where you could block low (split ends, could only block low towards the sideline) and the 10-2 was invented. That first rule also changed the philosophy of "low blocks are only illegal when" to "low blocks are only LEGAL when…" That meant that if there was any question, a low block should be first considered a foul but wouldn’t be in certain conditions. We then got area of focus because we saw players that technically blocked within the 10-2 region but players were still getting hurt because they were looking the other way and couldn’t protect themselves.

NOW…this is the biggest whack to low blocking that I’ve ever seen. I think in the next cycle, we might see them officially take it out. And when they do, the College game will mimic high school (other than in Texas) football because in the high school game, ALL low blocks are a foul.

Starting this year, practically only OL players will be able to block immediately after the ball is snapped. You’ll be able to read the exact wording below but that’s my quick summary of what the impact will be. Ball is snapped and if your tackles/guards/center are going to low block they’re going to have to do it right then. Looking at the videos that Shaw has put out on it, you MIGHT be able to still get a pulling guard or maybe a Tight End (as long as he’s aligned behind a tackle) on a pull block, but you’re going to have to be careful about where the ball is at the time the block is made.

The longer explanation is that only players that are either on the line within the tackle box (which is centered on the snapper and extends 5-yards to either side) and backs that are within the tackle box and STATIONARY at the snap (basically your RBs) are the only players that can low block. And if they low block, it must be on the INITIAL line charge and it must occur within the tackle box. This means that RBs that are in blitz protection are fine if it happens inside the box. The tricky part of this for players is that the tackle box disintegrates as soon as the ball leaves it. So, if you have no tackle box, of course you can’t low block WITHIN that box.

Here's an example:

QB #12 takes the snap and either a) drops straight back to pass or b) takes 5 steps to his left outside the left tackle. Blitzing LB #45 is blocked below the waist by RB #25 directly behind the LG. The ball is thrown and caught by WR #87 20-yards downfield.

Ruling: In a) the block is legal because the block occurs within the tackle box. B) Penalty for blocking below the waist, 15 yards from the previous spot. While the block occurred in what had been the tackle box, as soon as the ball leaves the tackle box, the box disintegrates.

The other big change to this rule is that the 5-yard belt is eliminated for both the offense AND the defense. Before, if there was a lead blocker and a defender cut him low and a teammate made a tackle within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, that was fine. Now…that’s a foul because it’s not within 1-yard of the line. It also would probably be outside the tackle box, which is ALSO illegal but you get my point.

Exact Rule Wording:


a. Team A prior to a change of team possession:

1. Linemen with initial position completely inside the tackle box may legally block below the waist inside the tackle box on their initial line charge. A block initiated 1-yard beyond the neutral zone is considered within the tackle box. After the initial line charge, these linemen may block below the waist within the tackle box until the ball leaves the tackle box only if the force of the initial contact is directed from the front.

2. Stationary Backs lined up within the tackle box may block below the waist within the tackle box until the ball leaves the tackle box 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.

3. All other Team A players are not allowed to block below the waist.

b. Team B prior to a change of team possession:

1. Players aligned in a stationary position within 1-yard of the line of scrimmage within the tackle box may legally block below the waist in the tackle box on their initial line charge.

2. All other Team B players are not allowed to block below the waist except against a ball carrier.

Rule change 6 – Unsportsmanlike Conduct (Rule 9-2-1-a-2)

Impact – Minor

Ok, a bit of a breather after digesting the low blocking change. We get a different way to enforce a live ball unsportsmanlike foul. The reason for this, I can best explain with an example:

2nd and 8 @ A25(going out) yard line. QB #12 takes the snap and is scrambling when he throws the ball to WR #16 for a 30 yard gain. As he releases the ball, a) he is pushed down (no roughing) by defender #97. After the tackle, #97 stands over #12 and taunts him or; b) he is hit in the head by defender #97.

In scenario a, in 2021, the offense would have to DECLINE this foul to take the 30 yard gain. The player would still have one of his two unsportsmanlike fouls added to his counter but the yardage would be declined. That’s different than in scenario b where the roughing the passer foul would be added on to where the receiver caught the ball and ran. It would be 30 yards PLUS the 15 for the foul. That’s a difference of 30 yards in these two scenarios. In 2022, they both get added on to the end of the last run. Basically they’re bringing both of these fouls in line with each other.

Exact Rule Wording:

PENALTY—Unsportsmanlike conduct. Live-ball fouls by players: 15 yards [S27]. Live-ball fouls by non-players and all dead-ball fouls: 15 yards from succeeding spot [S7 and S27]. Automatic first down for live-ball and dead-ball fouls by Team B if not in conflict with other rules. Flagrant offenders, if players or substitutes, shall be ejected [S47]. For Team A fouls during free or scrimmage kick plays: Enforcement may be at the previous spot or, if the scrimmage kick crosses the neutral zone, the spot where the subsequent dead ball belongs to Team B (field-goal plays exempted) (Rules 6-1-8 and 6-3-13). For Team B unsportsmanlike conduct fouls during a legal forward pass play (Rules 7-3-12 and 10-2-2-e): Enforcement is at the end of the last run when it ends beyond the neutral zone and there is no change of team possession during the down. If the pass is incomplete or intercepted, or if there is a change of team possession during the down, the penalty is enforced at the previous spot.

Rule Change 7 – Defensive Holding (Rule 9-3-4)

Impact – Minor

On this one, the change is in the penalty enforcement for defensive holding. Previously, if a defender was flagged for this foul against an offensive player who was not an eligible receiver, then it was simply a 10-yard foul. Our officiating philosophies also stated that if the QB was not looking at this receiver then we should deem him as not being and eligible receiver and only make this a 10-yard foul with no automatic first. I think part of the reason they changed this rule is because a lot of officials just made every defensive holding an auto first ANYWAY (even though it was incorrect to do so) and partially just to make this simpler to enforce and easier for fans to digest. So beginning in 2022, ALL defensive holding will carry an automatic first down in addition to the 10 yards.

Exact Rule Wording:

ARTICLE 4. PENALTY [c-e]—10 yards plus automatic first down if the first down is not in conflict with other rules [S42].

I’m going to leave this article at this point. Next week, I will dive into the editorial changes as well as the one proposal that was not adopted but will possibly be a point of emphasis or a rule change next year. I sincerely hope this information was useful and it will help us all be better fans, watchers of the game, and understand how the game is played and officiated from a rules standpoint.

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