The NCAA rules committee caught the college football coaches completely by surprise when it announced the first point-scoring change since 1912. In that year the value of a touchdown was boosted from five to six points. The essence of the new rule:
On the try for conversion after a touchdown, 2 points will now be awarded if the ball is advanced over the goal line by either a run or a pass. As in the past, only 1 point will be allowed for a successful placement or drop kick. The try for conversion will begin three yards from the goal line instead of two.
This revolutionary revision must be considered a personal coup for Fritz Crisler, the Michigan athletic director who was acting as chairman of the Rules Committee. He had been advocating the change for the last seven years. The announcement was received by the coaches with mixed emotions (see page 27), but one thing is for sure: it started all of them studying statistics and strategy for the coming season.
Ordinarily, I have felt that rule changes from year to year are bad for the game, but this particular revision intrigues me more than any move made in my 33 years as player, coach and observer. Primarily, it should cut down the number of tie games, which are never satisfying to anyone involved, by at least 75%. Some say it puts too much of a premium on one play to decide a winner. My answer to this is that it's a pretty good way of rendering a decision, if a team can move three yards of that Last Mile in one pass or running play.
Farfetched as it may seem, I look for a return of the drop kick despite the fact that the "slender" ball now in use is not as conducive to this mode of kicking as was the old, rounder ball. I can envision new formations and new "thinking" on the part of the coaches which will enliven the game even beyond the bounds of the conversion attempt. Don't be surprised if many a boy goes home from college this summer accompanied by a football, paints a goal post on the side of the barn or garage and returns in September an expert drop-kicker. Stranger things have happened.
Situation strategy will have to be worked out, but for the fan there will be few dull moments. What does a team do that scores first? Do they try for 7 or 8 points? The quick answer is 8, of course. But this team has a kicker who seldom misses, and the odds are that you can go broke trying to make three yards on the goal line by either a run or a pass. More importantly, you are behind 0-7 with little time remaining. You score a touchdown. Do you play for the win, with a good chance of losing 6-7, or an almost certain chance of tying it up? Pity the poor coach!
Lost in the welter of comment and consternation over the conversion change are other important revisions which have gone practically unnoticed so far. Here they are in capsule form:
1) A new substitution rule permits every player to re-enter the game once each quarter. For the past three seasons only those men who started the quarter could re-enter. Substitutes were allowed only one appearance.
2) Time-outs have been reduced so that each team will be allowed only four free time-outs per half. Five had been allowed previously.
3) A revision of the blocking rule now permits only one hand and arm to make contact with an opponent, instead of both arms and hands as before. This may be the "sleeper" that will cause more controversy than all of the other rule changes put together. Many T teams use a straight-on head block, making quick contact with both arms, chest and head, driving the opponent straight back. This is necessary because "packed" defenses make it virtually impossible to obtain a blocking angle with either shoulder alone. Clarification and interpretation are definitely in order on this revision.
4) Free kicks. If any free kick (kickoff or kick after a safety has been scored) goes out of bounds the offending team will be penalized five yards and allowed to kick again. All will agree that this is an excellent change. The old rule which gave possession to the receiving team at its restraining line—50-yard line on kickoffs—after two successive out-of-bounds kicks was much too harsh.
5) Jamming offensive signals is more clearly prohibited. Officials are now relieved of having to rule on intent.
6) Ineligible receivers down field. Ineligible receivers—center, guards and tackles—will be allowed down field as soon as the ball is thrown on passes. Previously they were not allowed to cross the line of scrimmage until a receiver had touched the ball.
Several coaches polled suggested to the committee that sideline coaching be made legal, but I am quite sure now that these requests have been withdrawn because of the new conversion rule. No coach in his right mind would want to take the privilege from his 19-year-old quarterback of deciding whether to go for 1 or 2 points.