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College Football/Off sides on on-side kick near end of UM/PSU game


I am confused about the off-sides call on the on-side kick by PSU at the end of UM/PSU game on 10/11/14. It is clear that the players feet were not over the line. Does the rule stipulate that the body has to be behind the ball before it is kicked as well? Extension of the body is the only explanation that I can come up with justifying the off-sides call. And if that is the explanation then how is a pass that is caught by a leaning player, clearly breaking the side line plane considered legal?


This is a great question.  

On free kicks (i.e., a kickoff), the team's restraining line not really a "line" as much as it is a vertical plane. (Rule 2-12-5)  That means it goes from the field into the sky.  Think of it as a wall.  The wall is removed at the time the foot meets the ball.  On regular free kicks, the philosophy is that the team is not offside unless they have a foot down beyond the line.  (No real advantage to have your head through the plane on a regular kick.)  However, by rule, the kickers are not allowed to have any body part through the vertical plane of the 35  yard line before the kick (other than the kicker and holder, if any, who do not have such a restriction--they can be beyond the 35).  On an onside kick, the plane becomes a hard wall by philosophy.  No part of any player can be beyond that vertical plane.  It is much the same as the goal line.  If the ball goes beyond that goal line plane, it is a touchdown.  Same with the line of scrimmage.  If a defensive player has his head beyond the line of scrimmage, he is offside, even if his feet are behind that line.

Alternatively, the sidelines are lines, not planes.  That means a player is not out of bounds unless he is TOUCHING something out of bounds (other than another player or game official).  (Rule 2-12-1)  There is no sideline plane.  If a player is not touching something, he is not out of bounds.

That is the difference.  Onside kickoffs are very hard to officiate.  These players are moving fast, and it is difficult to tell (even standing right on the line) whether a player is beyond the plane prior to the kick.  That said, if the team chooses to kick an onside kick, all players must be clearly behind the PLANE of that yard line.  

I hope that helps.  Thanks for the question!

Bill Robers

College Football

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William Robers


I can answer rules questions and officiating questions (including training, mechanics, and general questions).


College Football Official since 2005; assist in training newer officials.

Big Sky Conference Officials Association Sports Lawyers Association Rotary International

Law Degree from University of Minnesota Law School, 2001 MBA from Carlson School of Management at the U. of Minnesota, 2001 B.S. in Business Administration from Marquette University, 1997

Awards and Honors
Post-Season official in 2012 and 2013.

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