The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel instituted a dramatic change for college football on Tuesday, a decision so sweeping that it would have had a profound effect on exactly one game in Alabama football history.
With that said, many Alabama fans wish the change had come 20 years ago.
The overtime format for games that last far beyond their natural lives, into a fifth overtime, has been revised so that any game that reaches a fifth overtime will result in teams alternating 2-point conversion attempts. Previously, teams would continue starting drives at the opponent’s 25-yard line. A two-minute rest was added following the second and fourth overtimes. The change was a safety measure, meant to prevent marathons like last year’s seven-overtime Texas A&M-LSU game, won 74-72 by the Aggies despite several LSU grievances along the way. The valid concern was that as players become more and more exhausted, the potential for injury increases.
Alabama has never played a seven-overtime game. Only once has the Crimson Tide made it to a fifth overtime: the 2003 Tennessee game, a 51-43 Volunteer win that Alabama fans remember as fondly as a weekend cruise to Hell on the S.S. Beelzebub. For one thing, the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry was at peak animosity then, with Phillip Fulmer perceived as the villain.
Then there was Casey Clausen directing a game-tying drive nearly at the end of regulation, only to have a Tyrone Prothro kickoff return and a face mask penalty put Alabama in a range for a last-second 44-yard field goal to win the game. In the category of “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” the kick missed badly. Then there were the five overtimes, including Alabama’s failure to get off the field on 4th-and-19, all punctuated by the public address system greeting each overtime with “Are you ready for more free football?!?,” which was about like asking Titanic survivors if they were ready for more free ice water.
If nothing else, a two-point conversion contest might have been a more merciful ending although everyone who doesn’t have to play (or write on deadline) will miss the occasional six-overtime Arkansas Special.
The targeting rules were also modified so that targeting calls must be confirmed or overturned and there will no longer be a choice to allow the call made on the field to “stand.” Officials will examine “all aspects of the play and confirm the targeting foul when all elements of targeting are present.” This will certainly lower the number of targeting calls, which are generally unpopular, and will be interesting to watch in real time this fall.
Serial targeters — players with three or more on a season — are also subject to additional game suspension.
Blind-side blocks have been outlawed and are now a personal foul. Delivering a blind-side block “by attacking an opponent with forcible contact” will result in a 15-yard penalty and may be subject to targeting. So that’s one more judgement call to be made. Two-man wedge blocking on kickoffs has also been outlawed as the entire kickoff concept continues its apparent dinosaur-like trek to extinction.
Safety first should be the most important factor and seems to be the impetus for these changes (although it remain to be seen if game officials will be more reluctant to call targeting for fear of being overturned.) And every Alabama fan with fond memories of Bret Bielema and the insane Arkansas six-overtime win against Ole Miss that opened the door for the Crimson Tide’s 2015 postseason, there will be a small tear trickling down their cheek.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.