Badgers' ploy exploits new rule vs. PSU

Rob Biertempfel
| Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006

Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema found a loophole in the NCAA rule book and worked it to his advantage in Saturday's 13-3 victory against Penn State.

However, Bielema might not get a chance to do it again. His call caused a stir in the college football community and could lead to a rule change next season.

After scoring with 24 seconds left in the second quarter, nearly everyone on Wisconsin's kick team was blatantly offside on back-to-back kickoffs.

Under an NCAA rule put in place this year, the clock begins running the moment the ball is kicked. So when Wisconsin lined up for its third kickoff, only four seconds remained in the half.

The third kickoff was a squib -- with none of the Badgers offside -- which was returned to the 39-yard line as time expired.

"Obviously, that's taking advantage of the rules and shouldn't be allowed," John Adams, the NCAA's rules interpreter, said Monday. "We certainly wouldn't condone that."

Yesterday, during his weekly press conference, Bielema offered no apologies.

"It worked out exactly as we envisioned it," Bielema said. "It was something that we had practiced."

Bielema was able to burn the clock because of a rule the NCAA playing rules oversight panel approved during the offseason. The rationale for the rule change was that it would help trim the length of games by about five minutes.

"I don't necessarily agree with the rule the way that it's written," Bielema said. "But I knew the rule, and I wanted to maximize it. I have to put my team in a position to have success."

After the second kickoff attempt, Penn State coach Joe Paterno ran onto the field and asked why the referees had not called an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Wisconsin.

"He was upset that (the Badgers) were doing it deliberately," Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said.

No penalty was called, but the referees told both teams the clock would not start if the third kick was offside.

Adams said something should have been done after the first blatant offside play.

"I think after the first time it happens, you know what's going on and that it's an unfair act," Adams said.

Adams said the refs should have taken action under a rule that states: "If an obviously unfair act not specifically covered by the rules occurs during the game, the referee may take any action he considers equitable, including assessing a penalty."

Big Ten spokesman Scott Chipman said the kickoff sequence would be reviewed by Dave Parry, the league's head of officials. Parry was unavailable for comment.

"The officials could have called an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty ... but that's a judgment call, and we do not comment on judgment calls," Chipman said.

Since the start of the season, many Division I coaches have been openly critical of the rule. More than 17,500 fans have signed an online petition asking the NCAA to return to the old guidelines.

The NCAA football rules committee likely will reconsider the rule at its next meeting, in February.

"My guess is, because of the exposure we got, there may be an adaption for next year's rule book," Bielema said, with a grin. "But until then, that's the rule as it stands."

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