PHOENIX—The days of surprise rules changes in college football could be over. After proposed changes that blindsided large groups of coaches in 2014 and ’15—both cases were essentially attempts to hamper up-tempo offenses—the NCAA is attempting to retool the process by which rules changes are proposed and ratified. In the process, it will also remove any chance for a coach to claim he didn’t see a proposed rule change.
NCAA delegates met with the board of trustees of the American Football Coaches Association Monday night to help determine a better way to poll coaches about potential tweaks to the rules. In February up-tempo coaches revolted after the NCAA Football Rules Committee proposed cutting the distance offensive linemen are allowed to travel downfield beyond the line of scrimmage on forward passes from three yards to one. Proponents of the change argued those coaches had the opportunity to make their voices heard when surveys were distributed in January. The rule was ultimately tabled because of the uproar from coaches such as Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez and Ole Miss’s Hugh Freeze. Last year the committee tried to pass a rule that would have required at least 10 seconds between plays. That proposal also failed because of resistance from the same group of coaches.
The NCAA has already revamped how new rules will be passed by instituting a Football Oversight Committee that will operate much like the NFL’s Competition Committee. AFCA board president Tommy Tuberville said Tuesday that the NCAA is also trying to ensure coaches get a chance to review and comment on potential playing rules changes before they get into the pipeline. Several coaches said they never saw the surveys this year that would have alerted them to the possibility of a change in the linemen downfield rule.
“Coaches are the worst,” said Tuberville, the head coach at Cincinnati. “They don’t read emails. They got surveys.” Rodriguez maintains he didn’t get a chance to give his opinion. “I must be bad at taking surveys,” said Rodriguez, who is also an AFCA trustee. “I must have the wrong email address.”
The potential solution takes into account the coaching calendar. Instead of sending surveys out in January—when coaches are on the road recruiting and uninterested in anything else—Tuberville said the board suggested that the NCAA send the surveys on Feb. 1. That is the first day after coaches are required to come off the recruiting trail, so it all but guarantees coaches will be in their offices and available to review any potential rules changes. “If you’re not, you’re cheating,” Tuberville joked. If a potential rule change seems amiss, coaches can raise objections before it gets too far into the legislative process. “We’re looking at how do we get to these rules quicker?” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “How do we have more input?”
The coaches will probably have less input into new rules than in past years. Only one—Georgia’s Mark Richt—will serve on the 12-person Oversight Committee. “He’ll be our spokesman,” Tuberville said. “He’s got an eight percent vote.”