Note: Really long for the board; too tedious and hypothetical for a diary. Also, not sure about Meta but here goes:
On Saturday, Minnesota was trying to stop Nebraska on 4th and short early in the game. On the 4th down play, Nebraska pitched the ball backward to a running back who proceeded to butterfinger the ball out of bounds foward past the line of scrimmage and 1st down marker. He never had possession. Nebraska maintained possession and received a first down.
You can watch the play here. (It's the best replay I can find yet)
The ruling was based on the following from the NCAA Football rules:
Rule 7-2-4a: Backwards Pass (Page 72) - When a backward pass goes out of bounds between the goal lines, the ball belongs to the passing team at the out-of-bounds spot.
Makes sense. Except the very next rule states....
- In advance of the spot of the fumble, the ball belongs to the fumbling team at the spot of the fumble (Rule 3-3-2-e-2).
- Behind the spot of the fumble, the ball belongs to the fumbling team at the out-of-bounds spot.
OK, makes sense individually, as well. So how does one define if that backward pass is a fumble?...
Rule 2-2-3b: Loose Balls (tehehe page 35) - All players are eligible to touch, catch or recover a ball that is loose from a fumble (Exceptions: Rules 7-2-2-a-2 and 8-3-2-d-5) or a backward pass.
To recap: a Backwards Pass is a Loose Ball when incomplete but a Fumble if completed and fumbled or recovered and fumbled, but can be recovered by the other team in either case, except when it goes out of bounds, in which case the spot of the ball depends on the ruling of fumble or backwards pass. That is capital D Dumb.
My question (and yes, it sounds ridiculous): What keeps a coach from designing a fourth-down play that utilizes a gentle backward pass, the sideline, and an accurately placed bump (re: inconspicuous kick or punch) of the loose 'backward pass' upfield?
This play makes the most sense on the offensive half of the field. You make the kick out of bounds ahead of the first-down markers and it's a first down. If the kick is bad and errs inbounds, you play punt return defense because you just blasted it 30 yards upfield. Just don't kick it totally sideways out of bounds. You gain the 4th-down conversion attempt while sacrificing minimal field position.
EDIT: Found it myself immediately after posting:
Rule 9-4-1c (Page 93) states: No player shall bat other loose balls forward in the field of play or in any direction if the ball is in the end zone. PENALTY—10 yards and loss of down for fouls by Team A if the loss of down is not in conflict with other rules.
So, if I'm reading this (and the interpretations found here) correctly, the refs got it wrong because there isn't any mention of intent in the rules.
If I'm wrong and intent matters, why has a coach not attemp to 'accidentally' kick the ball upfield? And better yet, why does this distinction matter between backward passes and fumbles?
Without the distinction, this is a non-issue.