Important Rule Changes for the 2020 College Football Season

via National Football Foundation

CFO and NFF team up to highlight the changes designed to improve the game and increase player safety, including COVID-19 protocols.

IRVING, Texas (Sept. 2, 2020) – As the season draws near, it is time for the National Football Foundation (NFF) & College Hall of Fame to highlight the key rule changes that will take effect during the 2020 college football season.


Since 2011, the NFF has partnered with the College Football Officiating (CFO), led by Steve Shaw and chaired by Mid-American Conference Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, to help generate awareness for the rule changes in college football. The CFO functions as the national professional organization for all football officials who work games at the collegiate level, and the organization held its annual winter meeting of conference coordinators for football officials in late January for the eighth consecutive year at the NFF headquarters in Irving, Texas.

Shaw, who became the CFO National Coordinator of Football Officials in March, previously served the Southeastern Conference and Sun Belt Conference as coordinator of officials. He also serves as the Secretary-Rules Editor of the NCAA Football Rules Committee, a position critical to the development of competition rules and policies. Shaw excelled as a head referee for 15 years in the Southeastern Conference, earning 14 postseason assignments, including two national championship games. He has been a leader in revamping the sport’s officiating mechanics and advancing the use of technology to assist officials.


“It is very clear that the 2020 NCAA Football season will be a season like none other,” said Shaw. “From a rules perspective, the Rules Committee met back in February and suggested a list of changes that were approved by the Playing Rules Oversight Panel (PROP).  These changes were contemplated before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, so subsequently the Rules Committee has made three additional changes to address the current medical environment.


“PROP has also recently made an adjustment to the uniform rule to allow enhanced student athlete expression. These three areas are also being overlaid with a new set of officiating protocols for the 2020 season, and with the reduced number of conferences electing to play in the fall and other conferences electing to play in the winter / spring, this season will require “maximum flexibility” for us all.”

2020 Initial Rules Changes

- Players Numbering

No more than two Squad Members may be assigned or wear the same jersey number. There were no limits to duplicate numbers in previous seasons. With the recognized popularity of the single digit numbers, the digit “0” is added as a legal number. Any number to be preceded by “0” such as “07” or “00” remains illegal.

- Targeting - Disqualified Player

There were no changes to the Targeting rule from an on-field officiating perspective and the rule continues to serve the game well and is changing player behavior in terms of use of the helmet. The change for 2020 is that now a player disqualified for Targeting will be declared ineligible for further participation in the game, but the player may remain in the team area. 


All other disqualifying fouls such as Fighting, two Unsportsmanlike Conduct fouls, Flagrant Personal fouls, etc. will be reclassified as fouls requiring ejection. Players ejected will be required to leave the playing enclosure and must remain out of view of the field of play under team supervision.


- Pregame Warmup / Officials Jurisdiction

The Rules Committee address issues of Unsportsmanlike behavior in the pregame and took steps to clean this action up. The officials’ jurisdiction will now begin at 90 minutes before kickoff (previously 60 minutes). Additionally, when any Squad Member enters the playing enclosure prior to the game, the head coach or an assistant coach from that team must be present on the field. Furthermore, when any Squad Member is present within the playing enclosure after the officials’ jurisdiction, they must be wearing their jersey or have their numeral readily visible. Players without their numeral readily visible must leave the playing enclosure.

- Defensive Linemen on Scrimmage Kick Plays

To further enhance the protection of the snapper on scrimmage kicks, if the offense is in a scrimmage kick formation at the snap, any defensive player within one yard of the line of scrimmage must be aligned completely outside the frame of the body of the snapper at the snap. This change paired with the current rule that does not allow the defense to initiate contact with the snapper until one second has elapsed on these type plays will further protect the snapper on kick downs.

- Instant Replay / Clock Adjustment and Review Time

If the clock expires at the end of a half, and replay determines that there was time remaining on the clock, and the clock would start on the Referee’s signal after review, there must be at least 3 seconds remaining when the ball should have been declared dead to restore time to the clock. With 2 seconds or 1 second remaining on the clock, the half is over. This change will not impact situations when the clock is stopped and will remain stopped until the snap such as incomplete passes and runners out of bounds. In addition, the expectation is that the Instant Replay Official will not exceed two minutes to complete any review. The exception is if the review has end of game impact or has multiple aspects as a part of the review, it should be completed efficiently but will have no stated time limit.


Other Changes:

  • A second jersey meeting all requirements of the jersey rule worn concurrently is allowed.

  • The penalty for a team not complying with the jersey rule (i.e., legal and contrasting numbers or a colored jersey in violation of the rule) will be a 15-yard penalty after the kickoff of each half and the loss of a timeout in each quarter that illegal jerseys are worn.

  • Defensive Team Substitution Infractions will now be treated as a live ball foul.

  • All fouls that have an option to carry over to the succeeding kickoff will also contain an option to carry over to the succeeding spot in extra periods.


2020 Rules Adjustments to COVID-19

- Team Area and Coaching Box

To promote enhanced social distancing, the Team Area will be lengthened from the current configuration between the 25-yard lines and expanded to the 15-yard lines. This will enlarge the Team Area an additional 10 yards on each end of the field, resulting in a 70-yard-wide total team area. Coaches will be encouraged to utilize this 70-yard area to separate all team personnel and not have large groups congregating in a specific area near the ball. In addition, based on social distancing guidelines, Coaches are encouraged to stay out of the Restricted Area and remain in the Coaching Box.

- Pregame Toss

Currently the toss rules allow up to four Captains from each team to be present at the toss of the coin. Additionally, there are typically many additional non-essential people present such as honorary captains, media, photographers, sideline radio personnel, etc. The change for 2020 would be to include only one Captain from each team and the Referee and the Umpire. These four individuals are the only essential people that can attend the toss, and these four individuals will be spaced out and will conform to social distancing guidelines.

- Uniform Attachment / Medical Mask

A medical mask made of cloth attached to the facemask below the eye shield area will now be allowed. If worn by any squad member of a team, medical masks must be of the same color and design and must be of a solid color with no advertising, slogans, or insignia. The medical mask may bear the team logo.

- Playing Rules Changes Related to Commemorative/Memorial Uniform Patches

In an effort to allow student-athletes the opportunity to use the uniform to voice their opinions and/or express support of racial and social justice, PROP voted to direct all playing rules committees to implement the following policies for all sports effective with the 2020-21 seasons:

  • As authorized by the institution or conference, allow a commemorative/memorial patch (e.g., names, mascots, nicknames, logos, and marks intended to celebrate or memorialize persons, events, or other causes).

  • The patch must not exceed 2¼-square inches and must be placed on the front or sleeve of the uniform and may not interfere with any required markings.

  • While not all team members are required to wear the patch, the patch must be identical for those who choose to wear the patch.

  • As authorized by the institution or conference, allow other names/words intended to celebrate or memorialize persons, events, or other causes on the back of the jersey/uniform where the player name is traditionally located. The names/words may vary by team member.

- 2020 Officiating Protocols

In response to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the following officiating protocols will be in place:

  • The traditional whistle will not be allowed based on health concerns. Each official will now use an electronic whistle, and it is recommended that this whistle be attached at the waist.

  • All officials will wear a solid black mask. The official will “mask up” when the snap is imminent and may only lower the mask between plays when the official is in space (i.e. social distancing). The official may lower their mask and replenish oxygen but must mask up if anyone approaches the official or the next snap is imminent. 

  • Protective eyewear and gloves are recommended but is an optional decision that each official can make based on their personal circumstances.

  • All officials will be tested for COVID-19 weekly and will follow all Conference protocols.

  • Officials will conduct their Friday night film session and Pregame meetings virtually even when they are together in a specific hotel.

  • All conference coordinators are reworking crew and game assignments to minimize public transportation

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