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You Make the Call!

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Did you see the LSU – UNC game last Saturday night?  There was an interesting play late in the game.  UNC had just scored and attempted an “onsides” kick.

As complicated as football rules are, kicking situations are often more complicated than regular play.  One reason is that a kicking play is considered a “planned change of team possession during a loose ball play.”  Specific rules governing kicks come into effect as well as a few exceptions. 

High school rules include an entire chapter/rule entitled, “Kicking the Ball and Fair Catch.”  Also, Rule 2, “Definitions of Playing Terms,” devotes almost an entire page to “Kicks.”  A kick is defined as “the intentional striking of the ball with the knee, lower leg or foot.”  See how complicated the rules can be?  Over the years (14) I’ve seen several test questions on our annual rules test from that statement alone. 

Generally, there are two types of kicks: free and scrimmage.  There are several types of each of those, i.e., place, drop, and punt. A “kickoff” is “a free kick which puts the ball in play at the beginning of each half of the game, after a successful field goal and after any try.”  This is where we pick up the action from last Saturday night in the Georgia Dome.

LSU was ahead at halftime by a score of 30-10. With 2:32 remaining in the game, UNC had scored another touchdown and made the try to trail by six points.  On the ensuing kickoff, UNC attempts to get the ball back with what fans and commentators refer to as an “onsides” kick – that term is not in our rule book. 

More applicable rules apply.  Before the kicking team may legally touch the ball, the ball must have:
1) traveled ten yards
2) touched the ground.

Still more rules apply that are related to the rights of the receiving team and specifically, the rights of the player about to field the ball for the receiving team. Let’s watch the play first.  (Scroll ahead to the 1:38 min mark for the relevant action.)  Watch for player number 24 in white, near the bottom of the screen near the 40 yard line.

Was It Kick Catch Interference? 

OK, you make the call.  Was that “Kick Catch Interference” (KCI)?

The rules in college and high school differ.  In high school this would have been a legal play and a “no call” would have been the right call. Why?  KCI applies “When any free kick is IN FLIGHT in or beyond the neutral zone…”  There’s the rub.  Once the ball has hit the ground, it is no longer considered to be “in flight” because it has been GROUNDED.  How many fans in the stands would know that?  How many high school coaches would know that?

The relevant NCAA rules would take another paragraph. In a nutshell, what applies here is this.  The kicking team can’t block a member of the receiving team until the ball goes the required ten yards unless a member of the receiving team touches the ball first.

Now that you know the rules, watch the video again.  Did one of the SEC’s best officiating crews miss a call?  It was reviewed, but since no call was made, there was nothing to reverse or confirm. 

Got a question or game situation you’d like us to write about?  Leave a comment here or contact me at my blog; and, until next time, “See the ball!”


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  • Comicref

    Since such a violation of the NCAA free kick blocking restriction (Rule 6-1-2g) is very rarely committed (and therefore rarely called), most hardcore football fans (and a few officials) don’t even know it exists. Yet it’s the main reason why 7-man mechanics move the Headlinesman and the Line Judge from R’s goal line pylon to K’s 35 in obvious onside kick situations. In many conferences (including mine), their primary responsibility during onside kicks is to watch for such illegal blocks. Fortunately, the no-call did not affect the outcome of the game.

  • iveyk1

    Good point. A section specifically addressing the “onsides kick” could be invaluable. I also feel that crews practice this senario to little and this is where something terrible will happen.

  • Reese McKay

    It looked like interference with the receiver to me.

  • comicref

    “Interference” rules only applies to balls in flight (i.e., the ball hasn’t hit the ground). However, a grounded ball doesn’t nullify the blocking rule, which appeared to be violated in this case.