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NCAA bans wedge blocks, eye black with messages

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Eye black with messages and wedge blocks will be banned from college football this fall, and taunting in the field of play will start costing teams points in 2011.

On Thursday, the NCAA's Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved the three rules changes.

One year after the NFL banned wedge blocking on kickoffs because of safety concerns, the NCAA followed the lead. The new rule says that when the team receiving a kickoff has more than two players standing within two yards of one another, shoulder to shoulder, it will be assessed a 15-yard penalty — even if there is no contact between the teams.

The reason: NCAA studies have shown that 20 percent of all injuries occurring on kickoffs result in concussions.

"Everybody is looking to make sure we have a safe environment for the players," said Grant Teaff, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association. "On kickoffs, you have a lot of steam on both sides and you usually have what is called a 'wedge buster.' This will eliminate some of that."

The hope is it will reduce concussions, an issue that has received greater attention over the past year.

The NCAA deemed it so important that it made a rare rules change in an off-year of the normal 2-year process.

Texas coach Mack Brown and Indiana coach Bill Lynch agreed that it was time to change the rules to help players from the big collisions on kickoffs.

"Studies are showing that we are having more concussions across the country on kickoffs then in the past so it makes sense to try to find a way to address that," Brown said Thursday. "But we all need to look at the meaning of a wedge block and clearly define it. If we have a clear set of rules on that and officials can call it consistently, we can prepare our players differently on kickoff return blocking and hopefully help better protect our kids."

But it's the taunting rule that will create the biggest buzz.

Currently, players who are penalized for taunting on their way to the end zone draw a 15-yard penalty on the extra point attempt, 2-point conversion attempt or the ensuing kickoff.

Beginning in 2011, live-ball penalties will be assessed from the spot of the foul and eliminate the score. Examples include players finishing touchdown runs by high-stepping into the end zone or pointing the ball toward an opponent.

Celebration penalties following a score will continue to be assessed on conversion attempts or the ensuing kickoff.

"I think one of the reasons it's been looked at is that when a penalty occurs on the field, it's normally taken from the spot," Teaff said. "This was the only occurrence that it wasn't taken from the spot, so they wanted to change that."

Taunting has caused an annual debate among college football players, coaches and fans, and last season's big controversy stemmed from Georgia receiver A.J. Green receiving a 15-year personal foul penalty after he caught a go-ahead touchdown pass late in a game against LSU.

The yardage from the penalty was assessed on the kickoff and helped LSU get into position to drive for the winning score. Southeastern Conference officials said later that there was no video evidence to support the flag on Green.

Lynch called it an area that needed to be cleaned up and said he supported taking away scores.

"Just run it into the end zone, how hard is that?" he said after a spring practice. "It is a team game and that's what makes it such a great game."

A third change bans the use of eye black containing symbols or messages, a trend that grew in popularity because of the use by Heisman Trophy winners Reggie Bush and Tim Tebow.

The committee also approved a rule that will require all coaches boxes to have television monitors beginning in the fall of 2011.

In soccer, the rules committee approved changes for new soccer field dimensions, requiring them to 70 to 75 yards wide and 115 to 120 yards long. All fields in current use have been approved and will not be subjected to change.

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Associated Press writer Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, also contributed to this article.