'Halo rule' out of college football
BY JOSH DUBOW
AP FOOTBALL WRITER
HOOVER, Ala. - College football
will eliminate the "halo rule" this season, forcing punt returners to call a fair catch if they don't want to be hit.
"I always felt like if a guy wanted protection all he had to do was hold his hand up," Bobby Gaston, the coordinator of officials in the SEC, said Wednesday.
Under the halo rule, the kicking team was penalized if a player came within 2 yards of a returner before he caught the ball. The rule led to many borderline penalties and gave the returner a cushion as he tried to get away from the initial tackle.
This year, a returner must be given only an "unimpeded opportunity" to catch the ball, which is more in line with the NFL rule. The penalty for failing to do that or for contacting a player who has signaled for a fair catch will be 15 yards.
Also, if a receiver muffs a ball on a fair catch he can't be hit until it touches the ground or is out of his reach.
"It throws a lot of judgment on our behalf," Gaston said. "I think you'll see it enforced equally from Saturday to Saturday. That's the one thing coaches ask from me."
The other significant rule change allows teams to enforce an unsportsmanlike penalty after a touchdown on a kickoff instead of the extra point.
Gaston found that the punishment was not significant enough on the extra point, with teams making more than 98 percent of their kicks from the 18-yard line instead of the 3 and not gaining an advantage from starting 1 1/2 yards out either.
The new rule will force a team to kick off from the 20 or allow them to kick off from midfield, making a significant difference in field position, especially late in a game.
Despite a season with many controversial calls around the country, Gaston doesn't envision instant replay being used any time soon in college football.
He said using it in bowls games has been discussed but the majority of people are against that option.
"Instant replay in college football is not practical," he said. "In the NFL, every game is televised nationally. They have CBS or someone else to man the cameras and trucks. If Alabama plays Louisiana-Monroe and it's not on television, we need experts to handle nine cameras and all the stuff in the truck that is required. It is just an impractical cost."
One change Gaston favors is allowing referees to announce which player committed a penalty. Currently, penalties are assigned only to a team, forcing coaches to chase down officials to determine the offender.
"Every sport has it," Gaston said. "In baseball there's E-3. In basketball they announce a foul on No. 21. In hockey, they put you in a box. Why in football can't you tell who did it? I'm working hard to get that through. I can't see any reason why they can't identify the culprit."
Gaston said some coaches don't want the rule change because it could embarrass players. But Florida coach Ron Zook is in favor of it.
"I think it would help us as coaching staff
," he said. "You're always trying to find out who a penalty is on so you can communicate with your players. I would be in favor of calling the number out."
There also will be a few minor changes in limiting the situations a player in motion can block below the waist, and in not starting the clock on kickoffs until the ball is legally touched in the field of play.