Rules changes are on Big Ten coaches' spring meeting agenda pretty much every year, and this week's event was no exception.
The discussion between coaches and coordinator of football officials Bill Carollo centered on two rules adjustments: unsportsmanlike conduct for premature touchdown celebrations and cut blocks.
The unsportsmanlike conduct addendum is bound to get the most attention. In the past, if a player drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a touchdown -- before or after he reached the end zone -- it would be treated as a dead-ball foul and typically enforced on the ensuing kickoff. Beginning this season, these will be live-ball fouls and will be enforced from the spot of the infraction, negating the touchdown.
So if a player flips into the end zone, taunts his opponent before crossing the goal line or commits any other unsportsmanlike act on the field of play, the touchdown will be wiped away and teams will be assessed 15-yard penalties.
"The big change is it will be a live ball and we will take away touchdowns," Carollo said.
Big Ten coaches have known about the change for two years and will brief their players on it. Carollo and his staff spent time with coaches and players during spring practice to show them examples of acts that would prevent touchdowns.
"I would imagine every coach is concerned and probably every official is concerned because of the subjectivity," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It’s a little bit of a gray area."
The cut block change is a bit more complex. Here's how Carollo explained it.
"We’ve basically [stated] low blocks are illegal now with these exceptions: linemen on the line of scrimmage, they can cut block. Backs in the backfield who are stationary and between the tackles, they can cut low," Carollo said. "Not only do we put the restriction on these low blocks on the offense, but we also now are going to restrict the defense. Defensive linemen right at the snap, certainly they can go low. A cornerback in press coverage, he can go low. But once that ball leaves the tackle box -- the blocking area is a 6-by-10 zone -- then the defense can't cut block.
"It's a huge learning curve for the coaches to teach their players, and equally a huge learning curve for the officials."
Carollo's officiating crews must now communicate about how certain players started plays before making a cut block.
"Was he in motion or was he stationary?" Carollo said. "Being in motion, you're pretty much restricted. You can always block low if you're going north, south or away from the action to the sideline."
Keep an eye on these two changes this fall. It'll be interesting to see how they impact Big Ten games.