Modified NCAA Roughing the Passer Rule Is Well-Intentioned, but Will Face Issues

Ben KerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterApril 17, 2014

Tennessee wide receiver Marquez North (8) is tackled as he runs the ball after a catch during the annual Orange and White NCAA college spring football game on Saturday, April 12, 2014, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Wade Payne

Say this for the NCAA: Player safety is still at or near the top of the list when it comes to rule enforcement, or in this specific case, quarterback safety. 

On Wednesday, the Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved a new roughing the passer rule that will go into effect this season. The goal is to prevent defensive players from hitting the quarterback in a "passing posture" at or below the knees. 

From the NCAA's release

The rule specifically covers a scenario in which a quarterback is in a passing posture with one or both feet on the ground. In that situation, no defensive player rushing unabated can hit him forcibly at or below the knee. The defensive player also may not initiate a roll or lunge and forcibly hit the quarterback in the knee area or below.

Committing the penalty will still be 15 yards, but unlike the targeting rule, there is no mention of an ejection. 

The roughing the passer penalty is the latest rule in what has been a busy time in the NCAA headquarters. This week, college athletics' governing body proposed a group of new rules, including one that deregulates the amount of food a player has access to.

Additionally, a new recruiting rule allows early enrollees to sign financial aid agreements with schools beginning Aug. 1 of their senior year. (B/R's Barrett Sallee has more on that here.) 

Apr 12, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes quarterback Kevin Olsen (19) throws a pass during a spring game at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Like the targeting rule, the roughing the passer rule is well-intentioned, though the common complaint from defenders will be if they can't go high or low, where can they go?

Other players have complained (via Peter Barzilai and Erik Brady of USA Today) a stiffer stance on head shots means more knee injuries, though Jenny Vrentas of Sports Illustrated's Monday Morning Quarterback doesn't see a statistical correlation. 

In a perfect world, defenders would make form tackles at the middle of an opponents body all day, every day. That's what the NCAA and NFL want even though there is no way to enforce these rules—or teach new tactics—in a joint effort all the way down to Pop Warner and USA Football leagues. 

In other words, as players go through different levels of football over time, they're subject to new rules. In some cases, that means unteaching certain tactics.

Anyone who has played the game—ask B/R's own Michael Felder—will tell you going straight for the middle of the body is not always possible. Sometimes, it's rarely possible. A defender's job is to stop a play before it happens by any means necessary. An edge-rusher off the line of scrimmage who has been forced by an offensive tackle or tight end to go low may only have access to a quarterback's legs. 

The rule provides some exceptions that attempt to cut defenders some slack. In the following instances, a defensive player won't be penalized for going low if: 

  • The passer becomes a runner, either inside or outside the tackle box.
  • The defender grabs or wraps the passer in an attempt to make a conventional tackle.
  • The defender is not rushing unabated or is blocked or fouled into the passer.

Still, this doesn't cover all scenarios. That's impossible. Thus, it's up to the referees to use their best judgement when enforcing penalties. Like players, officials are human beings more than capable of making mistakes in the heat of the moment.

Football is faster than ever before. With so much demanded of officials in short spurts, oversights and misjudgments are a bigger part of the game. 

As rules introduce more human elements into the game, the risk for error increases. So while the roughing the passer rule is good in theory and may have positive long-term effects, fans of college football should expect an increase in controversial calls. 


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report.