NCAA football officials didn’t like California’s strategy at the end of its 35-30 win over North Carolina any more than the Tar Heels did.
Less than a week after that Sept. 2 game at Kenan Stadium, the NCAA issued a rules interpretation addressing Cal’s series of intentional pass interference penalties designed to burn time off the clock.
Inside Carolina reported Thursday that, in a Sept. 7 rules interpretation bulletin, the NCAA called Cal’s actions “unfair acts” and instructed officials to regard such “intentional fouls as Unsportsmanlike Conduct fouls and subsequently reset the game clock in these type situations back to the time at the snap on the play in question.”
During the game, Cal led UNC 35-24 with the Tar Heels driving deep in Bears territory in the fourth quarter. With 17 seconds left, Cal’s defenders intentionally held UNC’s receivers on consecutive plays to prevent them from getting open in the end zone. Following the two holding penalties, the Tar Heels were left with just six seconds. Though UNC eventually scored, the Tar Heels didn’t have enough time for an on-sides kick and a possible possession to win the game.
On his radio show this week, UNC coach Larry Fedora acknowledged Cal’s actions were within the rules, but he warned that more teams would take advantage of it.
“I think you’re going to see a little bit more of that, because there was a big discussion in college football amongst coaches after last year’s national championship game between Alabama and Clemson …” Fedora said. “There was a lot of talk of if Alabama had just tackled those receivers, either the clock would have run out and then they would have had to kick a field goal. There was a lot of talk about that, so a lot of teams are going to utilize that strategy in those types of situations. And so I think you’ll see more of that as the year goes on across the country. I think the officials are going to have to make a decision as to what they’re going to do.”
Turns out, the NCAA and the officials did.
Steve Shaw, NCAA coordinator of football officials, pointed out to Inside Carolina that this isn’t a rules change but a new interpretation.
“The rules handled it, but it was a lot of latitude, and we just wanted to give the referees the guidance on it,” Shaw said.