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Any 2020 football season should be a rules laboratory

In which we make the Big Ten even puntier.

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Banner Society Illustration.

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When I started writing this, Week 0 was down to three games that hadn’t been canceled or moved yet – Idaho State at New Mexico, Marshall at East Carolina, and UC Davis at Nevada. Then Oklahoma moved its opener against Missouri State up and Kansas added a game with Southern Illinois. It seems inevitable more schedule shuffling will happen between now and the start of the year, but if and when the 2020 season gets rolling it will be … highly unorthodox. Like “Notre Dame could maybe play in the ACC Championship” unorthodox.

We’ve already proposed several rule changes that college football should adopt permanently, like changing safeties to 11 points and altering what happens when the offense fumbles the ball out of the end zone. But we can also use each Power 5 conference as a mini-laboratory to try out a few other tweaks. While we’re throwing existing practices out for the year, why not really lean into that and make this a full-blown season of experimentation?

Let’s start with the Big 12, which didn’t see a single coach fired this offseason. (Baylor lost Matt Rhule to the NFL, but everyone else stayed put.) Every head coach in the conference will now be spending the year at home, as we unveil PROMOTION SEASON. The rules are simple: every Big 12 team must elevate one of its coordinators to head coach for half its games. Defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow’s been part of Gary Patterson’s staff for all but one season since 2001; why not give him the big job for a few weeks?

For the other half of the season, we’re going further down the depth chart: Each program must pick a position coach to run the team. DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma’s running backs coach, won NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2014; Now he’s head coach of the Sooners. By putting the big names back on the bench, we’re creating new opportunities for staffers and turning prepping for an opponent into a much harder task. And Gary Patterson gets more time to work on his recording career!

The Big Ten, our most cosmopolitan group of schools, each brimming with students eager to tell you about how study abroad really changed them, is getting an international assignment: the DIET CFL. By that, we mean we are importing exactly one rule from Canadian football, where This year, each Big Ten team will have three plays, not four, to get a first down. Four schools in the conference finished in the top ten in punts per game in 2019 (Rutgers, Maryland, Illinois, and Northwestern), so they should have no objection to this plan. The remaining schools get to put their vaunted coaching intellect to the test. A true grandmaster can win without all the pieces on the chessboard!

The Pac-12’s always been a place for innovators – just ask them – which is why we’re giving them VARIABLE PERSONNEL rules for 2020. It’s very simple: before the offense starts a drive, they must declare to the referee how many players they’ll be using on the field. The minimum is six, and the maximum is sixteen, and the defense has to match whatever number the offense chooses. Want to keep things spaced out and try to break some big plays with your speediest guys? Maybe you keep the personnel super lean. Prefer maximum manball? Load the line of scrimmage up with every tight end and guard you can find.

There’s a catch: whatever you decide at the start of a series is what you’re stuck with for the rest of it. If you started with seven players, got to 4th and goal from the one, and want to go with a jumbo package to punch it in, too bad! Dance with the ones who brought you.

It’s rude to call the ACC a basketball conference, given that they’ve won two titles under the College Football Playoff and technically have the reigning BCS champion. But we’re giving them a very basketball rule change: FIRST TO 21. There is no game clock in this system; the goal is to be the first team to score 21 points (or more, we won’t penalize you for going over). Once you do that, the game’s over and you’ve won, even if takes only 45 minutes of real world time.

On the other hand, we don’t stop until one team’s gotten to 21. So under this system, last year’s UNC win over Duke by a score of 20-17 isn’t over. 2019 Georgia Tech had two games where neither team scored 21 points, Miami had four, and Pitt had five. Some of these might be very, very long slogs. ACC fans will tell you this is not a meaningful change.

Finally, the SEC will be subjected only to a special teams variation, though it’s an important one: COACHES KICK. Not any coach you pick, either, so don’t think Georgia can just make up some assistant job to get Rodrigo Blankenship back out there. For field goals and extra points (we’re not going to make them do kickoffs, as we are only partially monsters), head coaches have to trot out there, weird polos and vests and khakis and all, and stare down the sinister twin forms of the goalposts. Time to see how makeable all those field goals they spent years screaming about being missed really are.

“Nobody will kick anymore!” you insist. “It’ll just be a bunch of two-point conversions and going for it on fourth down!” If you’re right, well, that sounds pretty damn good to us!