Eye on the cut block

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CHICAGO -- Rules were the topic for the Tuesday morning session for football coaches at the Big Ten spring meetings.

The coaches emerged a bit grumpy and confused.

Two new rules hitting the books this fall have their attention -- unsportsmanlike conduct for celebrating a touchdown before crossing the goal line and where and when cut blocks are illegal, a "drastic change," Bill Carollo, the Big Ten's coordinator of football officials, said.

The cut block change has caused quite a bit confusion. Listen Carollo describe it:

"We've basically gone to low blocks [cut 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 the low blocks on the offense, we're now putting them on the defense."

Wait, what? Defensive blocking penalties?

"Defensive linemen right at the snap, they can go low," Carollo said. "A defensive back in press coverage, he can go low. A pulling guard, he also can go low."

But what about players leaving the tackle box?

"Once the ball leaves the tackle box, that 6 [yards] by 10 area that's defined, then the defense can't cut block," Carollo said. "So, it's a huge learning curve for the coaches to teach the players and equally a huge learning curve for the officials."

So, all low blocks are illegal outside of the tackle box and on the line of scrimmage for press defensive backs. This includes special teams (kick and punt return), change of possessions (fumbles and interceptions) and any defensive techniques that may include taking blockers out outside of the tackle box.

Chop blocks, when two O-linemen engage a D-lineman and one goes high while the other blocks low, has been and remains illegal, a 15-yard penalty. The new illegal block is 10 yards.

So, 12 grumpy Big Ten football coaches just saw some practice schedules go up in flames because of explanation of this new cut block rule.

"That was a big part of the morning this morning," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said with a chuckle. "I think that's going to be interesting. We have two major changes. . . . Cut blocking has changed. They have a little bit of a different slant on it now. It's something that probably needs further discussion."

Carollo admitted that there is a ton of learning on both sides of the game.

"Where did this guy start [line up before the play]?" Carollo asked. "I have my man on this side of the field, but the play ends up on the other side and he has a low block. So, now there's a little more teamwork with the officials. Where did 87 start that play. Was he in motion or was he stationary? 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. That's the major concern. I expect we'll have a meeting with the rules editor this week. We'll have a meeting in early June and we're going to get a few of these things clarified."

The coaches' concern with the celebration penalty is what constitutes celebration. The "live ball" component of the rule, which was announced before last season and will be enacted this year, can take points off the board. It will be treated just like a holding penalty that took place during the play. The ball will be placed at the 20-yard line and the points will come off the board.

Start your somersault before you reach the goal line (Reggie Bush), the points will come off the board. If you flip into the end zone after you've crossed the goal line, it's a deadball 15-yarder assessed on the kickoff or the PAT.

"The unsportsmanlike rule has the potential to be a steeper penalty," Ferentz said. "I would imagine every coach is concerned and probably every official is concerned because of the subjectivity. I think we all can think of a play that took place a couple years ago [Reggie Bush] that was kind of a Kodak moment in that regard. It's a little bit of a gray area."

Carollo said officials and coaches will be shown videos of what constitutes a flag, but there certainly is room for some sort of new taunt that officials don't even pick up on.

"If someone is doing something prolonged or exaggerated or drawing attention to himself, in the judgment of the official, there's a good chance that he will get a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct," said Carollo, a former NFL official. "The big change is that it will be a live ball [penalty] and we will take away touchdowns."

The rule was introduced two years ago to brace schools for what's considered unsportsmanlike. Still, there's an interpretation to it and not everyone will know it when they see it.

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