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College Football/ground not causing fumble rule


How long has the rule where the ground cannot cause a fumble been around?

Thank you for your question.  I am not aware that the exact language "the ground cannot cause a fumble" has ever been codified.  Please know the rule incorporated the idea or concept  that "the ground cannot cause a fumble" dating back to at least 1905.  

This is a rule interpretation and an officiating philosophy that has evolved over years (60+ years).  As I am sure you know It is important to understand that the ball becomes dead when the runner is down while in possession of the ball [runner is down when any part of his body other than his foot or hand are touching the ground].  Officials struggled with this judgement call early on in the game.  In 1927 this problem in judging whether the ball was fumbled, muffed or the runner was down was a concern when the rules committee when they began to address the backward pass.   In 1929 the rules committee implemented that a ball muffed or fumbled and recovered by opponents is dead at the spot of recovery. In 1932 the rules committee provided the definition of a dead ball and this is the foundation of this concept. In 1989 the NCAA rules committee addressed in their meeting fumbles. It was felt that (at the time) the most controversial dead-ball decision an official makes is whether a fumbled ball was fumbled before any part of the runner's body except his foot or hand touched the ground. The NCAA rules committee opined that  the loss of possession of the ball on a fumble is severe and that the mechanics of the play should favor the team in possession (1989 NCAA Football Rules FR-63).  In the modern game this idea that the ground cannot cause a fumble is what was being taught as to how to rule or judge a fumble play.  The concept was taught by officials to other officials for decades prior to 1989. This concept has been covered in various rules over the past 100 years (forward progress, Fumbles and loose ball plays, when the ball is dead,  player possession).

The current rules in 2013 provide:  "To fumble the ball is to lose player possession by any act other than passing, kicking or successful handing (A.R. 2.19.2-I and A.R. 4.1.3-I). The status of the ball is a fumble"

4-1-3-b  A live ball becomes dead and an official shall sound his whistle or declare it dead: When any part of the ball carrier's body, except his hand or foot, touches the ground or when the ball carrier is tackled or otherwise falls and loses possession of the ball as he contacts the ground with any part of his body, except his hand or foot [Exception: The ball remains alive when an offensive player has simulated a kick or at the snap is in position to kick the ball held for a place kick by a teammate. The ball may be kicked, passed or advanced by rule] (A.R. 4.1.3-I).

I am sure I have given you more information that you wanted, but there is no specific rule with the language you ask about.  It is a concept that is part of the rule pertaining to "Dead Ball"  as it pertains to forward progress, fumbles and where/when to declare a runner down.
It was 1932 that the rule regarding the definition of a dead ball was codified so that is the likely date you could use.  Just know that concept evolved from about 1905-1932 and continued to evolve until 1989.

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Vic Winnek


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