Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze fear they have lost the battle to keep the rule from changing on the illegal man downfield penalty.
The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel is scheduled to vote Thursday on a proposal from the NCAA Rules Committee that would reduce the number of yards offensive linemen can move downfield on a pass play from 3 to 1 yard.
"It’s going to change the way we do things, those of us who are run-pass offenses, and when you look around college football right now, that’s a lot of us," Malzahn said. "You’re always looking for ways to be creative, and I don’t think you should ever change the rules to take creativity out of the game unless it’s a safety issue. This is not a safety issue.
"This is two years in a row now that something like this has happened, and it looks like this one will get through."
Last year, a 10-second rule designed to slow the pace of play offensively was proposed by the NCAA Rules Committee, but it was tabled before it ever got to the oversight panel.
Malzahn and Freeze are among a group of coaches nationally who have asked Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, the rules committee chairman, to also table this proposal and make it a point of emphasis this season among officials.
"I understand those coaches who are upset when a lineman is 5 or 6 yards downfield and the quarterback pulls up and throws a pass," Freeze said. "That’s a penalty and should be called. Throw the flag, but don’t penalize those of us who are doing it right and coaching it right by changing the rule."
Malzahn and Freeze are among several coaches nationally who use the “pop pass,” which is a play-action pass that many of the spread teams use to make it look like a run, particularly on a zone-read play, and then throw it. One of the most obvious examples of a “pop pass” was Nick Marshall’s touchdown pass to Sammie Coates to tie the Alabama game two years ago, which was then won by the Tigers on Chris Davis’ Kick-Six.
Steve Shaw, the SEC’s coordinator of officials, said the new rule would stipulate that an offensive lineman could still be 3 yards downfield as long as he was engaged with a defender, but that offensive linemen would no longer be able to free release beyond 1 yard and a team legally throw a pass.
"This will hurt the high school coaches, too, because a lot of those guys are running the same stuff," Malzahn said. "Those of us coaching in college who came from high school understand how important this is and how much it will change the game.
"Scoring will be down. You’re not going to see teams scoring as many points, and when it’s getting harder all the time to get fans to come to games, is that something that college football wants?"
Rogers Redding, the NCAA’s coordinator of officials, maintains that the proposal has support from both offensive and defensive coaches and that one offensive-minded coach even commented to him, "We have to play defense, too."
Redding added that the changes the committee are sending to the oversight panel are good for the game and that he supports them.
The split among FBS coaches on whether to change the rule, according to Redding, was about 50-50. The rules committee gathered input from coaches via a survey, but Malzahn said only a small sampling of coaches ever send those back.
"Part of the problem is that they do those surveys in January, right in the middle of recruiting, and a lot of us don’t have time to think,” Malzahn said. “Whatever happens, we need to come up with a better system on how to go about doing this."