AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Every year, there are new rules to pay attention to, for coaches, players, officials and viewers watching games.
Here are several of particular note that could impact teams this season. ACC coordinator of officials Doug Rhoads spent time going over these changes with coaches during the spring meetings, and took some time to explain them for this post. These changes were made to help create more player safety.
1. Helmet comes off. This is big change that Rhoads spent the most time going over with the coaches. If a player's helmet comes off, he must leave the game for the following down. The only exception to the rule is if the helmet comes off as a result of a penalty (face mask, for example). If the ball carrier's helmet comes off, the play must be whistled dead immediately. No more running into the open field without a helmet.
If a player who is not the ball carrier loses his helmet, he must stop playing. He cannot make a tackle, continue blocking or running a route, for example. If he continues prolonged participation without a helmet, he will be whistled for a 15-yard penalty. There is some gray area here. One example mentioned -- what if an offensive lineman loses his helmet while blocking somebody coming after the quarterback? Does he stop playing to allow the end to go after the quarterback unimpeded? The key will be determining what "prolonged participation" is.
There is one more part to this rule change. With less than 1 minute remaining in either half, if the ball carrier's helmet comes off, and that is the only reason the play is being whistled dead, there is also a 10-second runoff. If a team has a timeout remaining, the coach can elect to use the timeout instead of running 10 seconds off the clock. But the player must still leave the field for one play, unless his helmet comes off as the result of a foul. Here is your ultimate nightmare hypothetical: Let's say 9 seconds are left in a game, and your team is driving. The ball carrier's helmet comes off, and the play is whistled dead. Your team has no timeouts left. Officials must announce the game is over by rule.
Last year, helmets came off an average of twice per game. Averaged out over the course of a season and you get a helmet coming off near 200 times. All of this is being done to make sure coaches, players and equipment managers do their due diligence to ensure helmets are secured properly, and to protect players in the event their helmets do come off.
2. Kickoffs. They move to the 35-yard line now. If there is a touchback, the ball is moved to the 25-yard line, up from the 20. The hope is for more touchbacks on kickoffs in order to avoid many of the jarring hits that injure players. But kicking teams may elect to squib it to try to pin a team inside the 25. Receiving teams may decide to run out of the end zone anyway, even with the extra five-yard cushion.
One rule change to the formation -- 10 players on the kicking team must have one foot on or inside the 30 in order to cut down on running starts.
On onside kicks, any player on the receiving team is given the same kick-catch and fair-catch protection whether the ball is kicked directly off the tee or is immediately driven into the ground and bounces into the air.