BAFA 2018 Rule Changes

As we approach the end of the BUCS university season we come to the time when BAFA introduce new rules to the UK.

Why now?

The rules being introduced are fundamentally driven by the NCAA rule changes that happened in the U.S. at the start of their 2017/2018 season. Once the rules are introduced in the U.S., they then pass through the International Federation of American Football for inclusion in the rules that are used in the UK and most countries in the world. The Editor there is Professor Jim Briggs, who is also on the BAFA/BAFRA Rules Committee.

The recent changes were published in December by the International American Football Officials Association (IAFOA) where Jim Briggs is Chairman.

“Each year we make improvements to the rules to make the game safer and to encourage better sportsmanship” – Jim Briggs

“While this year’s changes are minor relative to some previous years, we expect that they will make the game safer for all participants.”

What are this year’s changes?

Well, firstly there aren’t many. Major changes to rules happen on a two-year cycle. For 2017’s major changes, see my article from last year.

In the alternate years, rules that are introduced relate to safety issues that shouldn’t wait.

The new rules take effect on 1 March (except for the remainder of the BUCS season). These rules will take effect for the BUCS season that begins in 2018.


There is now a general rule that prohibits altering equipment to reduce its effectiveness. If such equipment is worn, the player will be sent to the sideline until it is replaced. Equipment is designed to prevent injuries to the players who wear it. If any player alters the design of any equipment, it may not be effective for its designed purpose.

In the past, one form of illegal equipment was treated completely differently from others. Players with studs that were too long were disqualified (cleats in US lingo). Although rare, it was thought this penalty was disproportionate, so from this season illegal cleats will be treated like any other equipment fault – i.e. the player is sent to the sideline until the problem is fixed.

Knee Pads

This one is going to cause some friction on the field as there seems to be a miss-guided view amongst some players that knee pads are an optional fashion accessory which can be ignored if you are wearing shorts! Knee Pads must also be at least ½-inch thick.


Leaping in an attempt to block a field goal is also restricted for safety reasons. Only players lined up within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage can legally jump to attempt to block the kick. Players who run up from further behind the line cannot do so. Previously they could run up and leap provided they didn’t land on top of anyone else. Now it is a foul wherever they land.

Defensless Player Protection

A ball carrier sliding feet-first to give himself up is an increasingly common play. Similar to the NFL, such players will have extra protection because the ball will now be considered dead when they begin their slide.

As a result of the play being over, the sliding player will now get protection as a defenceless player. Any hits to the head and neck area will result in the disqualification of the tackler.

Kick Off

To prevent teams fooling around on a kickoff, the kicking team can no longer run across their restraining line without kicking the ball.

Other changes

– Advertising is now allowed on goal posts.

– If a game is played indoors (chance would be a fine thing for most!), the roof should be at least 90 feet above the field.

– If played indoors with a retractable roof, there are now rules covering when it must be closed.

– The running clock rule can be delayed until 2 hours 15 minutes have elapsed in games that are broadcast live (internet streaming doesn’t count!).

– In previous years’ changes, coaches were added to the rule that allowed disqualification for two Unsportsmanlike Conduct fouls. To further clarify an action that would earn a coach an unsportsmanlike foul, it is now explicitly written that coaches may not leave the coaching box to protest officiating.