Ask the Official: Illegal helmet contact rule in NCAA goes beyond defenseless players

By Bill LeMonnier | Posted 9/10/2018

Under NCAA rules, can a player be penalized for illegal helmet contact on a situation that does not involve a defenseless player?

Technically, NCAA football does not have an illegal helmet contact rule, per se. Anyone who is not a defenseless player is still protected by rule 9-1-3 – using forcible contact with the crown of the helmet.

All players on the field are protected from their heads to their toes from a forcible crown-of-the-helmet hit. This is a 15-yard penalty.

The targeting rule – which carries a 15-yard penalty and ejection – requires a defenseless player along with forcible contact to the head or neck of the player or any contact with the crown of the helmet.


Do officials always confer with the coach before enforcing a penalty?

Typically, officials only confer with a coach or the captain on the field if there is a strategy involved.

If an offense is called for holding on a play in which it gained 30 yards, there’s no real reason to ask a coach if he wants to take the penalty. Similarly, if a defense is called for pass interference on a play in which the ball falls incomplete, it’s obvious the offense wants the penalty. Don’t slow down the game for questions you already know the answer to.

However, if an offense loses a few yards and there is holding, the coach or captain has a decision to make. Some teams would rather have second-and-14 than first-and-20 depending on the field position. Generally, the coach makes this known with a hand gesture of “push them back” if he wants the penalty enforcement.

The only time an official should truly confer with a coach – e.g., walk over to the sideline and hold a discussion – is when something happens that’s so rare, an explanation is involved.

And trust me, if an official assumes the wrong thing with a penalty, the coach will let it be known.

USA Football Rules Editor Bill LeMonnier is a former college referee who currently serves as an ESPN NCAA rules analyst. Click here to ask Bill a question. Make sure to put “Ask the Official” in the subject line.