2020 college football rule changes: What’s new with COVID-19 protocols, targeting and instant replay

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USATSI

College football season is arriving, without the Big Ten and Pac-12 participating. But even with just three Power Five conferences — the SEC, ACC and Big 12 — scheduled to be in action beginning in September, you can bet there will be at least one close loss that a fanbase blames on poor officiating this month. 

Don’t expect fans to take it easy on the officials this season just because they are adjusting to some new rules for the 2020 season. A couple of the new rules even have a direct impact on the officials as they will no longer be using traditional whistles and will now be under a time crunch during replay reviews.

There are also some tweaks to what happens when a player is disqualified for targeting and some ways in which COVID-19 will impact elements on the periphery of the sport. Here is the full rundown of what’s changing within the rules of college football in 2020, as outlined by the National Football Foundation:

Zero legalized: The single digit “0” is now a legal jersey number. 

Targeting tweak: The scenes where a player just ejected for targeting runs off the field alongside a support staffer while getting booed by the opposing fans are over as the players ejected for targeting are now allowed to remain on the sideline for the rest of the game. However, players will have to leave the sideline if they are ejected for another reason, such as for fighting or receiving two unsportsmanlike conduct or personal foul penalties.

Increased jurisdiction: The “jurisdiction” of officials will now begin 90 minutes before kickoff instead of 60 minutes. This is designed to “address issues of unsportsmanlike behavior in the pregame.” Players on the field during the officials’ jurisdiction must also have their jersey number visible and be accompanied by a coach.

Protecting the long snappers: Defensive players within a yard of the line of scrimmage are now required to be aligned “completely outside the frame of the body of the snapper” on punts and field goal attempts. The change is designed to “further enhance the protection of the snapper on scrimmage kicks.”

Clock tweak: If the officials review a play at the end of the half and determine there are fewer than three seconds remaining and that the clock would start on the referee’s signal, then the half is over.

Instant replay time limit: The new “expectation” is that the replay official will take no more than two minutes to complete any review. There are exceptions, however, for plays with “end of game impact” and plays with multiple aspects under review.

COVID-19 protocols

  • The team area will now span the distance between the 15-yard lines, which adds an additional 20 yards with the hope of promoting social distancing on the sidelines.
  • There won’t be four captains coming to the middle of the field for the coin toss this season. The only people present for the coin toss will be a captain from each team, the referee and the umpire.
  • Players can wear a medical mask made of cloth that is attached to the facemark below the eye shield area.
  • If approved by schools and conferences, players can wear patches that support social justice causes and have names/words “intended celebrate or memorialize persons, events, or other causes” on the back of their uniforms.
  • Officials will use electronic whistles attached to their waists
  • Officials will wear solid black masks
  • Officials will be tested weekly for COVID-19