At the NFL Annual Meeting on Tuesday, the league’s Competition Committee abolished all forms of chop blocking — a move that was predictably endorsed by defensive players and coaches and derided by offensive linemen and coaches.
So what does this mean for the college game?
At last check of the NCAA rule book, low blocking — when an offensive player addresses the defender below the knees from the front side — remains permissible when it’s a one-on-one encounter, and the defender hasn’t engaged with another blocker at the same time.
Here’s the precise wording from the National Football Foundation (circa 2013):
Imagine a zone that extends seven yards from the snapper toward each sideline, goes five yards into the defensive secondary and in the other direction goes all the way back to the offensive team’s end line. Before a change of possession, a back who is stationary inside the tackle box and a lineman inside the seven-yard zone may legally block below the waist inside this zone until the ball has left it. Everyone else on the offensive team may legally block below the waist only — if the block is clearly to the front of the opponent.
When factoring in the entire scope of college football, the above ruling should stay in the book.
Why? Well, there are countless September Saturdays when Power 5 programs (SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC) routinely handle schools from the Group Of Five leagues (American Athletic, Mountain West, Mid-American Conference, Conference USA, Sun Belt) or FCS opponents — relying on prohibitive advantages with size (height/weight), strength, athleticism, depth and raw talent to rack up victories.
As such, it can be a great hindrance to the smaller schools with lesser resources.
Take Air Force, for example. The academy team can ostensibly recruit offensive linemen of a certain size (ones who presumably fit into fighter jets).
To nullify that gridiron negative, the Falcons’ linemen are known for low blocking their bigger opponents — with the intent of initiating contact in all cases and never engaging defenders low from the back side.
That mentality also rings true for FBS schools. If they have any chance of knocking off college football’s most powerful conferences, the process must involve the act of making opposing defenses uncomfortable — either via spread, up-tempo offenses or legal low-blocking measures in the trenches.
“If (every college offensive linemen) weighed 325 pounds, we might do it differently,” Air Force O-line coach Clay Hendrix told The Gazette last summer. “(The power programs) don’t lose weight for us. They don’t mind getting a sixth year of eligibility, when we don’t even get five. I’ve always thought the good teams, they don’t complain about it.”
Which begs the question: Should SEC officials take a page out of the NFL playbook and abolish all chop or low blocks during conference games?
That rationale serves a transitional purpose: If the SEC programs are time-tested feeding grounds for the NFL, shouldn’t the conference adapt to the updated professional rules — when the competing teams/players are similar in size and talent?
On the plus side, it would ease the minds of SEC defenders, knowing that low/chop blocks would be prohibited in league play — likely covering the conference championship and bowl games, as well.
It would also help these NFL-caliber athletes assimilate to the professional rules long before entering that arena. (By extension, it would hasten their learning curve with NFL playbooks.)
On the down side, the risk for injury would still be prevalent during September (and late November non-conference) games, with smaller schools residing on the schedule.
Of course, the Power 5 teams aren’t obligated to schedule smaller and presumably weaker opponents three or four times per year; but that’s a debate for another day.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.