College Football

6 Most Obscure College Football Rules

Greg WallaceFeatured ColumnistJune 27, 2014

6 Most Obscure College Football Rules

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    LSU coach Les Miles has found himself in his share of controversial plays.
    LSU coach Les Miles has found himself in his share of controversial plays.Sara D. Davis/Associated Press

    It’s happened to us all. You’re watching a college football game and a game-changing play happens. You look to the officials for an explanation, and the result is flummoxing.

    It happens. College football fans are known for their intensity and depth of knowledge, but they aren’t paid to know the voluminous NCAA rulebook. Officials are, which leads to some obscure rules being pulled out as explanations.

    It happens every year, and it’ll happen again this fall. Here’s a look at some of the most obscure rules in the college football rule book, some of which will pop up again in the 2014 season—and some of which will not.

One-Point Safety

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    One of the rarest plays—a one-point safety—occurred in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl.
    One of the rarest plays—a one-point safety—occurred in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl.Ross Franklin/Associated Press/Associated Press

    The Rule

    Rule 8-3-1 states that “points shall be scored according to the point values in Rule 8-1-1 if the try results in what would be a touchdown, safety or field goal under rules governing plays at other times.”

     

    What Makes It Obscure

    In 1988, the NCAA introduced a rule which allowed defenses to return a failed point-after try or two-point conversion for points. This created the possibility of a truly strange occurrence: the one-point safety. It has happened only five times in college football since 1988, and only twice at the FBS level—in the 2004 Texas-Texas A&M game and the 2013 Fiesta Bowl between Kansas State and Oregon.

    How does it occur? If the defensive team gains possession of the ball on a point-after try and is tackled in the end zone, the offense receives one point. In the Fiesta Bowl, Oregon botched the point-after try with a K-State defender grabbing the ball. Retreating backward into the end zone, he attempted a lateral to a teammate, who was tackled by Oregon. One point, Ducks.

    It is a bizarre but fascinating rule, the dodo bird of a college football rulebook.

     

Shading Eyes for a Fair Catch

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    The fair catch is routine but yet fraught with danger.
    The fair catch is routine but yet fraught with danger.Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    The Rule

    Rule 2-8-1-d states that “if the receiver shades his eyes from the sun (while attempting to catch a punt) without waving his hand(s), the ball is live and may be advanced.”

     

    What Makes It Obscure

    The fair catch is one of the most common plays in football, but so much can go wrong. The ball can be muffed, fumbled or lost. Or you can lose it in the sun. That’s right. The NCAA gives players who are blinded by the sun no quarter. If a player shades his eyes from the sun but doesn’t wave his hands, that isn’t a fair catch. The ball can be advanced if he drops it. Sounds like an excellent case for shaded visors if you ask me.

No Leapfrogging to Block a Punt

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    You can block a punt in a lot of ways, but you can't leap over a guy to do it.
    You can block a punt in a lot of ways, but you can't leap over a guy to do it.David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Rule

    Rule 9-1-11-c states “that no defensive player who is inside the tackle box may try to block a punt by leaving his feet in an attempt to leap directly over an opponent.”

     

    What Makes It Obscure

    There are many ways to block a punt, but you are not allowed to leap directly over an opposing lineman in an attempt to block the punt. That could punish the most freakish of athletes. However, it is not a foul if the player attempts to leap through or over the gap between players, and it is not a foul if the player tries to block the punt by jumping straight up in the air without attempting to leap over the opponent.

No Direct Snaps to an Offensive Lineman

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    The center can snap to more than one person, but his fellow linemen aren't on that list.
    The center can snap to more than one person, but his fellow linemen aren't on that list.Eugene Tanner/Associated Press

    The Rule

    Rule 7-2-3 states that “no offensive lineman may receive a hand-to-hand snap.”

     

    What makes it obscure

    The idea that this rule even has to be in the books is bizarre. Why in the world would a center want to snap a ball directly to the left guard or right guard? Why would he snap it to anyone besides the quarterback or perhaps a running back in wildcat formation? Regardless, the rule is there, and it prevents direct center handoffs to a fellow lineman, creating what could be the ultimate “fat guy touchdown.”

No Defensive Pass Interference on Passes from a Kicking Formation

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    A fake punt could be harder to defend than you imagined.
    A fake punt could be harder to defend than you imagined.Eric Gay/Associated Press

    The rule

    Rule 7-3-8-c states that “when a team’s potential kicker, from scrimmage kick formation, simulates a scrimmage kick by throwing the ball high and deep and contact by a (defensive) player occurs,” it is not interference.

     

    What makes it obscure

    All of the conditions involved in the rule are strange. Defensive pass interference can be a difficult rule to call, and rules like this make it even more difficult. Not only does it qualify the pass as being “high and deep” from a kicking formation, but it also puts the onus on the referees to decide just what is a "high and deep" pass. Don’t be surprised if this rule is misinterpreted in the near future if a corresponding situation occurs.

The Mercy Rule

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    2012's Florida State-Savannah State game was one of the biggest mismatches in recent memory.
    2012's Florida State-Savannah State game was one of the biggest mismatches in recent memory.Steve Cannon/Associated Press

    The rule

    Rule 3-2-2-a states that “at any time during the game, the playing time of any remaining period, periods or the intermission between halves may be shortened by mutual agreement of the opposing head coaches and the referee.”

     

    What makes it obscure

    Coaches love to talk about “giving 100 percent from the opening whistle to the final gun.” The idea of surrender of any sort is utter anathema. But there are rules in place to manage the biggest of blowouts. In 2012, Florida State was a 69.5-point favorite over Savannah State, and the only reason the Seminoles didn’t cover was because the game was shortened.

    Following a pair of lightning delays, the game was called with 8:56 minutes left in the third quarter, with FSU taking a 55-0 win over its FCS foe. Halfway through the second quarter, with FSU up 48-0, a 45-minute lightning delay occurred. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher and his Savannah State counterpart agreed to run the clocks for the rest of the game and to shorten the halftime period.

    The game never even got that far, as a second lightning delay called the game with less than nine minutes left in the third quarter.

     

     

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