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The NCAA May Have Just Killed the Run-Pass Option

The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel has revealed their latest rulings for the upcoming season and it could have a huge impact on college football.

Changes are coming to the way the college game is officiated.
Changes are coming to the way the college game is officiated.
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Many factors have contributed to the proliferation of high-scoring offenses over the past few years but the run-pass option may be the most pressing.

For those unfamiliar with the play, it utilizes aggressive run blocking schemes from the offensive line while still allowing the quarterback the freedom to choose to throw the ball, often to a receiver running a quick slant route or waiting on a screen pass.

The play is particularly effective for a very simple, fundamental reason. Linebackers are taught to watch how the offensive line blocks to see where the ball will end up. If an offensive guard or offensive tackle has released to the second level to block a linebacker, the defense should not expect a pass to come through the air.

Run-pass options have exploded in popularity in recent years as officiating crews have been lax on enforcing existing rules preventing offensive linemen from blocking three yards or more past the line of scrimmage on passing plays. Today it's common to see an offensive guard blocking a linebacker four yards away from the line of scrimmage as the quarterback rears back to throw a pass. This tweet sums up just how difficult it is to scheme passing defenses when the man downfield rule is not enforced.

As terrible as the screenshot above is, I've seen much worse in action on Saturdays including offensive linemen roughly ten yards downfield blocking defenders in the secondary... on a pass play!

The NCAA has had enough of the egregious rule-bending. The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel has instructed the NCAA's officiating staff to "stringently enforce" the existing rule that allows ineligible receivers to block no more than three yards down the field on passing plays.

This is the second straight year that the rules committee has specifically called out enforcement of the existing man downfield rule. If the endorsement falls on deaf ears, the NCAA may review previously-proposed legislation to change the rule to permit ineligible receivers to advance just one yard past the line of scrimmage.

We'll have to wait to see if the committee's request actually influences the on-field enforcement but here are some other rule changes approved this week:

  • Tripping a ball carrier is now a personal foul. Thought this one was already enforced, to be honest.
  • Ball carriers sliding feet-first to avoid contact are now considered defenseless players. This will open up a lot of potential targeting calls. I have a feeling this rule change will be unpopular with the majority of fans but I think it's a great move. We've seen way too many concussions spring up from these type of unnecessarily violent hits.
  • Blocks outside the tackle box can only be below the waist when the block occurs away from the initial position of the ball. As an example, a wide receiver or H back can still cut block a safety or cornerback if they are moving away from the mark on the field where the ball was snapped. A wide receiver cannot throw a cut block at the knee of a linebacker on a "crackback" block towards the original location of the ball. This should clean up the game by removing cheap shots that can tear ACLs.
  • Coaching staffs are now allowed access to computers and tablets but only in the coach's box or locker room. Don't expect to see NFL-style ugly blue tablet on the sidelines just yet but the college game is certainly moving in that direction. Hopefully we get some great live tweets from the coaching staffs.
  • Replay officials are now granted the power to stop play if they suspect the on-field officials missed a deliberate targeting foul.