College Football: Horse Collar Tackle During Try Down

Welcome to The DA Blog Sunday Night Bowl-Season-Special-Edition College Football Rules Review.

I am posting this special edition due to a series of questions a young (and astute) football fan recently asked regarding two prior posts: The Horse Collar Tackle and Points After A Touchdown.

His question (and I quote):  “What happens in an NCAA game where the defense is returning a blocked PAT for a 2 point conversion—on their way to the end zone for the 2, they get horse collared and taken down resulting in a horse collar penalty. How, where is penalty assessed? Do they not get the 2? It’s not like they get the ball and try for the 2 with a scrimmage play? Is it assessed on the kickoff? Wouldn’t the kicking team be rewarded (not giving up the 2) by committing a penalty?”

Great questions and outstanding issue-spotting.  We need to read two rules to answer the questions.

First, NCAA Football 2013 and 2014 Rules and Interpretations Rule 8-3-2-d tells us that the Try Down ends when:

1. Either team scores;

2. The ball is dead by rule (A.R. 8-3-2-IV and VI);

3. An accepted penalty results in a score;

4. A Team A loss-of-down penalty is accepted (Rule 8-3-3-c-2);

5. Before a change of team possession, a Team A player fumbles and the ball is caught or recovered by any Team A player other than the fumbler. There is no Team A score (A.R. 8-3-2-VIII).

Second, Rule 8-3-4 (Page 85/210) tells us the following about fouls that occur during the Try Down after a change of possession (e.g. a blocked Try Down Field Goal “going the other way” as our friend described) :

Penalties against either team are declined by rule (Exception: Penalties for flagrant personal fouls, unsportsmanlike conduct fouls, dead-ball personal fouls and live-ball fouls treated as dead-ball fouls are enforced on the succeeding kickoff or at the succeeding spot in extra periods. See Rule 8-3-5.)  (A.R. 8-3-4-I and II).

Also, Approved Ruling 8-3-4-I (Page 121/210) provides a substantially-similar example and also concludes that the Try Down ends and the penalty is declined.

So the answer seems fairly-straightforward: The ball is dead, the penalty is declined, and therefore the game proceeds with a free kick from the team that scored the six-point touchdown that preceded the Try Down play that resulted in this big mess the officials had to sort out.  But to me (and to the reader) the question is “Isn’t this unfair?”  That is, the recovering team was about to score two points (and had to run a long way to do so), and the other team committed a foul that resulted in a favorable outcome for the team committing the foul.

Teachers and parents will tell us, “Life isn’t fair”, and this appears to be a yet another example of this universal, immutable axiom.

So the final question becomes, “How would you write the rule differently to promote more fairness in these circumstances?”

Let me know what you think, but don’t tell me “Life isn’t fair.”  I would respond to you as my friends from the South do:  “I ga-tha.”

For those of you from Atlanta, that means “I know that”.

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