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July 29, 2008

Coming season features key rule changes

The new 40-second play clock has dominated offseason talk about rules changes, but you'll notice other significant changes this fall, too.

That wild and crazy, goose-stepping cornerback streaking down the sideline toward the end zone is no more. Well, a cornerback—or any other player with ball in hand and the end zone in sight—still can showboat, but he'll pay for it with a 15-yard penalty.

That's the message the college football officials sent writers and broadcasters during a video presentation at conference media days that went on across the nation last week. Sportsmanship is in—showboating of any kind is out. Another area of emphasis this fall will be player safety. Specifically, contact initiated by a defender with the crown of his helmet will be policed heavily, as well as the dreaded horse-collar tackle.

While I don't have any issues with taking look-at-me behavior out of the game, I do have a problem with how officials now will be asked to monitor hard hits. No, I'm not against protecting the safety of players. But I am interested in keeping the playing field level between offense and defense. And I think this scrutiny of how players are tackled only is going to give offenses more of an advantage.

The hits I saw in the video presentation all looked legit to me. Yes, they were hard blows. But, this is football. I fear defenses will be forced to think too much before delivering a hit or making a tackle, taking away a lot of the instinctive qualities that a good defender possesses. And enforcement will add another level of judgment officials will have to deal with in a game that's already littered with judgment calls. Specifically, the rule on contact with the crown of a helmet: Was it his helmet or shoulders that initiated contact? It all happens so fast. How can officials REALLY know?

Following are a few other notable rules changes.

• Any attempt to record, either through audio or video means, any signals given by an opposing player, coach, or other team personnel is prohibited. Thank you, Bill Belichick.

• All face mask penalties will be 15 yards. Before, an official could judge whether the infraction was five or 15 yards.

• Replay officials now have an expanded range of plays for which they may review: certain field-goal attempts; instances where a player is ruled down and a loose ball is immediately recovered; instances where a player is ruled out of bounds when he immediately carries the ball across the goal line. Also, head coaches now will retain a challenge if their initial challenge was successful.

• The days of teams being given a sideline warning to stay in their place are over. Officials now get to whistle a penalty with no warning. Every team's "Get Back" coach better be on his toes.


The biggest change will be a new 40-second play clock, which will have a major change on how the game looks and flows.

The goal is two-fold:

1. To speed up games

2. To develop consistency as to how soon the ball is ready to be put in play after a play.

"It will help from stadium to stadium," says Illinois coach Ron Zook. "And you better be ready to run plays. No doubt, offenses that play at a quicker pace will have an advantage."

As a point of contrast, the old 25-second play clock started when an official gave the "ready" signal after the ball was spotted. Now, the play clock will be set at 40 seconds after the ball is dead and started immediately.

However, everything changes in the last two minutes of each half. In that juncture, the play clock will start on the snap. Why? That will allow offenses to maximize use of the clock and hopefully get off more plays.


The soap opera that has surrounded Rich Rodriguez's arrival to Michigan has muted the fact the guy still is a darn good coach.

Talking to Rich Rod at Big Ten media days, he revealed several schools visited in the offseason to study his power spread option offense to glean ideas. Among them was Oklahoma. And when I visited with Kansas coach Mark Mangino in the spring, he told me the Sooners also had picked his brain for concepts and ideas he uses to run his hurry-up/spread sets.

No doubt, much of this has to do with the new 40-second play clock, as more and more schools across the nation will use hurry-up offenses in an effort to get off as many plays as possible.


Yes, that was Central Michigan star quarterback Dan LeFevour at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago last week at Big Ten media days.

Turns out LeFevour—who is from the western suburbs—was home last week and did some interviews with writers from his area. Since LeFevour already was in the Chicagoland, he was escorted by CMU officials to the Big Ten event, where he hooked up with several writers from national publications and Internet sites.

Brilliant work by CMU. Brilliant. It was a good way for CMU to spread the word on a guy who may be the top non-BCS quarterback in the nation.


The Big Ten Network is gearing up for its second season, but there still is no word if former Minnesota coach Glen Mason will be part of the on-air talent.

Mason, who did game analysis and studio work last fall for BTN, took a job with a financial company in the Twin Cities. But you'd think he still could squeeze in work with BTN. Hey, it's all about staying in circulation and up-to-date with the game. I know Mason has pledged his allegiance to his new job, but I hope he gets another shot to be a head coach one day. He's too good to be out of the game.

Speaking of the Big Ten Network, I recently took a tour of their studios in Chicago and talked with staffers Dave Revsine, Howard Griffith and Gerry DiNardo. The trio is excited about an upcoming tour of Big Ten training camps. And each is full of opinions, especially DiNardo.

"Michigan will be interesting" says DiNardo. "The still have the second-best talent in the conference. But the X-factor and unknown is the transition to (Rich) Rodriguez's offense. If it's a big transition, Michigan could have struggles. If they pick things up quickly, this will be one of the better teams in the conference."

The Big Ten Network brass also is excited about an upcoming feature that will follow Illinois this season with behind-the-scenes access. The BTN did this with Tubby Smith and the Minnesota hoops team last year. But this is the first time BTN will chronicle a football team.

BTN officials first approached Purdue's Joe Tiller, but he rebuffed the idea even though there could have been good drama and emotion in Tiller's 12th and final season in West Lafayette, Ind. Give Illini coach Ron Zook credit for stepping up and seizing what will be a great opportunity to sell his program directly into the living rooms of many potential recruits across the Midwest - and the nation.

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.

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