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Friday, November 26, 2004

About that Longhorn one-point safety

I don't do a lot of sports blogging as a rule. I'm a fan, but in moderation, and don't bring any particular knowledge or skills base to my sports blogging.  But today's Texas A&M versus Texas game may be an exception — one in which the game officials needed a lawyer on the spot to help persuade the ABC Sports commentators that the officials knew whereof they spoke.

As best I could tell, here's what happened:  Early in the second half, Texas blocked an Aggie punt, recovered it, and advanced it for a touchdown. Texas' regular placekicking holder was out with an injury; the backup holder bobbled the snap and Texas' placekicker muffed the Point-After-Touchdown kick, booting it through the offensive and defensive line into (but not all the way out of) the end zone. One of the Aggie defenders recovered the live ball — took possession of it, and advanced it out of the end-zone (trying for a two-point counter-conversion) — and then fumbled it back into the end-zone.  [Update (Sat Nov 27 @ 2:40am): But see the update below: The AP says the ball never quite made it to the A&M end-zone before being recovered by the A&M player who fumbled it into the end-zone.] Thereupon it was recovered, either by himself or by another Aggie, who was immediately tackled in the end-zone. The officials' ruling — to the complete perplexity of the ABC Sports broadcasters — was to award Texas a one-point safety, tying the score at 13-all.

A one-point safety?!? Now if that's not enough to send a lawyer-fan to his web browser, I dunno what is! And of course the place to go is the official NCAA website, specifically to the .pdf file containing the 2004 football rules.

There, on the 101st page of the .pdf file (internal numbering FR-100), we find Rule 8, entitled "Scoring," in which section 1 decrees:

Scoring Plays

ARTICLE 1. The point value of scoring plays shall be:

6 Points
Field Goal
3 Points
Safety (points
awarded to opponent)
2 Points
Successful Try Touchdown 2 Points
Field Goal or Safety 1 Point

A "regular" PAT would be a "Field Goal" during the "Try Down" that comes after a touchdown (per Rule 8, Section 3), and a two-point conversion would be a "Touchdown" during the "Try Down." The one-point safety (which I've highlighted in red print in the table above) is an example of a "rouge" that occurs during the "Try Down."  Football.com helpfully explains about "rouges" in general:

A rouge is scored if the ball can not be returned out of the endzone. Fieldgoals are live and can be returned for a touchdown. Should the defending team not return the missed field goal out the end zone a single point is awarded to the kicking team.

For example: The first team kicks to the second team. A player on the second team attempts to catch the ball in his team's endzone, but fumbles the ball and is subsequently tackled. The other team scores a rouge, as the ball became dead in possession of a player in his own goal area.

[Update (Sat Nov. 27 @ 1:30am): But see Voice of Reason's comment below, justifiably quibbling with my use of the Canadian-rules term "rouge" for this situation, and my reply immediately below that comment, which contains more quotes from the official NCAA rules, secondary source and historical references, and contrasts with the NFL rules.]

Conclusion: Although it didn't figure in the final outcome ('Horns 26, Ags 13 — Hook 'em!), the refs got it right. And all the rest of us have learned something today!


Update (Sat Nov. 27 @ 2:20am): Here's the AP's explanation, as carried in the Austin American-Statesman:

But Texas holder Matt Nordgren dropped the snap, Dusty Mangum kicked the ball into the line and it rolled away just shy of the goal line. In the ensuing scramble for the football, officials ruled that A&M had gained possession of the ball then fumbled it into the end zone.

A&M safety Jaxson Appel recovered the fumble just before several Texas defenders pounced on him.

Game officials conferred for about a minute before ruling that the Longhorns would get a point for downing Appel in the end zone. The mostly orange-clad crowd of 83,891 exploded into cheers once the scoreboard recorded the point, tying the game at 13-all.

But then the AP report cites the NCAA rule for regular 2-point safeties. Heh. I'll claim my post as another episode of blogospheric accuracy outdoing the mainstream media.

Posted by Beldar at 05:31 PM in Sports | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to About that Longhorn one-point safety and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) StreetGOP made the following comment | Nov 26, 2004 6:03:25 PM | Permalink

Now if we could just get em' to explain the stinkin BCS thing.

Our horns are gunna get the shaft one more time. I'd give my right index finger for another shot at Oklahoma.

Now we gotta watch Utah prance around like ferries in a BCS bowl.

It's bad enough bein a horns fan in LA.

(2) Wallace-Midland, Texas made the following comment | Nov 26, 2004 6:16:30 PM | Permalink

Only problem with this thesis is that the ball, to a TV onlooker anyway, touched a player going thru the line into the end zone.....therefore and to wit rendering it a "Dead Ball".

(3) Beldar made the following comment | Nov 26, 2004 6:23:36 PM | Permalink

Wallace, as I read the rules (specifically Rule 8, Section 4, Article A), the ball touching a player on the kicking team (or the ground) before going above the cross-bar and between the uprights would have disqualified it from counting as a field goal, but didn't make it a dead ball. If it had gone out of bounds, or if it had been controlled and downed by an A&M player (inside the end-zone without attempting to advance it, or in the field of play), it would then have become a dead ball.

(4) Wallace-Midland, Texas made the following comment | Nov 26, 2004 9:56:41 PM | Permalink

Beldar, I'll accept your scholarly research. An interesting play none-the-less and one that I'm sure will make the highlight circuit for years.

(5) Voice of Reason made the following comment | Nov 27, 2004 12:07:53 AM | Permalink

Um... a "rouge" does not exist in American football. The page you linked correctly describes the rouge as something unique to Canadian football.

(6) Beldar made the following comment | Nov 27, 2004 12:56:29 AM | Permalink

Voice, you're right that the NCAA rules don't call it a "rouge," and the description on the page I linked was indeed one describing differences in Canadian Football League rules. But the term was used by the ABC Sports folks describing the play in the Texas-Texas A&M game, and seems to fit — or at least, to fit more closely than any other short-hand term I've run across yet. Wikipedia has this further description of the "rouge" — again explicitly describing CFL rules:

If the ball is kicked into the goal area by an opponent, a single point or rouge is scored when the ball becomes dead in possession of a team in its own goal area or when the ball touches or crosses the deadline, or a side-line-in-goal, and touches the ground, a player, or some object beyond these lines; it is worth 1 point. Although rouge remains an official term, it is rarely used, and this score is almost always called a single. The term "rouge" ("red") is a holdover from the time many years ago in which a point was deducted from the score of the team failing to advance the ball from the end zone rather than being added to the score of the other team; if a team had no points this could result in their going "in the red" with a negative score."

The NCAA Rules also don't use the terms "Extra Point," "Point-After-Touchdown," or "Two-Point Conversion," but they seem to be pretty generally accepted.

American and Canadian football share a lot of roots, it seems. So it wouldn't surprise me if there's an ancient American football precedent — before today, anyway — for the use of the term. But if there's not, there oughta be. Here's more from Wikipedia on American-rules (NCAA and NFL) football scoring:

One or two extra points may be scored following a touchdown. The team which scored the touchdown is given a conversion attempt (also called a "try"). The ball is spotted at the 2 yard line (NFL) or 3 yard line (college), and the team which scored the touchdown is allowed to run a single play in which they may score either one or two additional points. In the NFL, if a defender gains possession of the ball, the try is immediately over. The defending team can only score during a conversion attempt by the other team in college football, where if a defender gets possession of the ball and carries it into the opposing end zone, his team gets two points. This rule was adopted by the NCAA in 1990, but is not used anywhere else.
  • An extra point, worth 1 point, is scored in the same way as a field goal is scored during regular play.
  • A two-point conversion is scored in the same way as a touchdown is scored during regular play.
  • One point is awarded for a safety (see below). In college football, this can occur when the defense gains control of the ball, then fumbles it out of bounds in its own end zone. In the NFL, since the try ends once the defense gains possession, a safety can only be scored if a defensive player bats a loose (fumbled) ball out of bounds in the end zone.

It seems that the Wikipedia entry ought to be amended to allow for the possibility not only of a fumble out of bounds in the defending team's own end zone, but for (as happened in Friday's game) a non-touchback tackle there. The definition of a "safety," per NCAA Rule 8, Section 5, Article 1, is (italics added):

a. The ball becomes dead out of bounds behind a goal line, except from an incompleted forward pass, or becomes dead in the possession of a player on, above or behind his own goal line (or becomes dead by rule), and the defending team is responsible for the ball being there....

NFL rules, as Wikipedia correctly notes, don't permit the defending team to score either a "try down touchdown" or a "try down safety." According to the NFL's "Digest of Rules" prepared for fans, the 216-page official NFL rulebook apparently provides that

[t]he defensive team never can score on a try. As soon as defense gets possession or the kick is blocked or a touchdown is not scored, the try is over.

If the summary is right, that would seem to call into question Wikipedia's "batted-ball safety" scenario — but I'd have to dig into the actual language of the NFL official rulebook to be sure, and I can't find it online in full text.

In any event, modern American college football rules regarding touchbacks seem to make the occurance of these one-point safeties even more uncommon than the defending team advancing the blocked kick 97-to-100 yards for a "try down touchdown," so it's not going to come up much.

If instead of being part of the "conversion attempt" or — as it's called in both the NCAA and NFL rules, the "Try Down" — this same sequence of events had occurred in a regular field goal attempt, the resulting safety wouldn't have been surprising to so many fans or the broadcasters. If, say, Texas had been stopped on third down at the A&M 20-yard-line, tried a field goal on fourth down — but the field goal was blocked, bounced toward the A&M end zone, was recovered by A&M — and the recovering player, trying to advance the ball, then took it backwards into the A&M end zone and was tackled there, then I don't think anyone would have been surprised to see a regular 2-point safety awarded. Nor, if instead the recovered blocked field goal attempt had been run back by an A&M player to the Texas end zone, would anyone have been surprised to see A&M awarded a 6-point touchdown. The safety and touchdown definitions seem to be the same; what's different is just the resulting point scoring if the safety or touchdown occurs as part of the "Try Down." (See Rule 8, Section 3, Article 1.)

Apparently, the fact that Friday's play occurred during the "Try Down" also was ruled by the refs to trump the normal rule (Rule 8, Section 5, Article 2) that would have given Texas possession of the ball again after a "free kick" by A&M from the A&M 20-yard line. Rule 8, Section 3, Article 2(d)(1) specifies that the try ends when "[e]ither team scores," and Rule 8, Section 3, Article 6 specifies that

[a]fter a try, the ball shall be put in play by a kickoff or at the succeeding spot in extra periods. The team scoring the six-point touchdown shall kick off.

The more specific provision relating to try downs was interpreted by the refs to apply in lieu of the more general provision relating to safeties — a judicious approach entirely in keeping with the common law.

(7) Michael T made the following comment | Nov 27, 2004 3:00:17 PM | Permalink

I remember the ABC telecast. They claimed that this rule only applied on two-point attempts. Looking at the rules, there seems to be nothing in there restricting safeties to two point attempts. However, looking at the "Index to Interpretations [of the Rules]", see pp 197-200, (FI-46 - FI-50), I believe that ABC took their interpretation from the following:

Approved Ruling 8-3-2
I. On a two-point try attempt, B2 adds new impetus to a Team A fumble that is recovered in the Team B end zone by Team B. RULING:
One-point safety (Rules 8-3-1 and 8-5-1).

So here the specific mention of a team B recovering a fumble in the end zone is for a two point try. There is further verbiage about blocked kicks being able to be returned by the kicking team so I would think that the ball is not dead and the above rule does not apply.

Probably the next closest is also from Ruling 8-3-2:

VI. On a one-point try attempt, Team A’s kick is blocked. The ball, untouched beyond the neutral zone, (a) is recovered by B3 on his oneyard line or (b) hits the ground in Team B’s end zone. RULING: (a) B3 may advance the ball. (b) The ball is dead, the try is over (Rule 8-3-1).

(8) Michael T made the following comment | Nov 27, 2004 3:02:22 PM | Permalink

Argh, hit post instead of preview... Meant to say that refs most likely took the interpretation from 8-3-1 (I) but looked at the ball as being live (as Beldar states) but then fumbled backwards and so on...

(9) LazyMF made the following comment | Nov 28, 2004 12:10:56 PM | Permalink

Good post and good comments.

This reminds me of the baseball umpiring school I attended as a senior in high school.

After learning the on-the-field job (positioning, strike zone, etc.), the majority of the class was spent in a small theater over a period of 4 weeks, using the socratic method. The class leader, Mike Entire, would give a scenario something like "there is a runner on first with one out. A batter hits a ball off the pitcher's leg. The ball careens towards the first base line where the batter, now running towards first, steps on the ball with his right foot. His left foot is in fair territory, and his right foot is in foul ground. You!...stand up....what's your ruling?"

You would then be required to stand up, rule book in hand (which you had been studying outside of class), and offer your ruling, citing the rules applicable by paragraph and sub-paragraph. If open to other interpretations Mr. Entire would stand another person up, and you know how it goes from there.

Without a doubt, that umpiring school prepared me for law school better than any class (except maybe Const. Law in the poli. sci. dept.)I'd taken in high school or college.

If you're a parent with a child that is in high school expressing a desire for a career in law, send them to one of these classes. Participation in debate is great, but umpiring classes (and probably football referee classes) are great preparation for law school. They also provide a source of wholesome exercise and income (during which you learn conflict mediation skills with the fans - which is a whole other story).

(10) cody made the following comment | Nov 28, 2004 2:40:56 PM | Permalink

NFL Rule 11-3-1 deals with point-after-attempts (called the "Try" in NFL). It says "...During this try:

(a) if a Try-kick is good, one point is scored. If a kick cannot score, the ball becomes dead as soon as failure is evident.

(b) if a Try results in what would ordinarily be a touchdown by the offense, two points are awarded. If a touchdown is not scored, the Try is over at the end of the play or if there is a change in possession.

(c) if there is no kick and the Try results in what would ordinarily be a safety by the defense, one point is awarded to the offensive team."

About the only instance of (c) occuring that I can think of is a defensive player batting a fumbled ball through his own end zone. Since, on the NFL try, the defense cannot score nor even gain possession, for the offense to get one point in this case, the defense must cause the ball to pass over the goal line, with the ball then becoming dead not in possession of the offense.

Another instance, after piecing together other NFL rules, would be a 11-4-1(a): "If a player of the team which intercepts the ball commits a foul in the end zone, it is a safety." So any other rule that would award a safety also applies here (of course, that penalty could be declined, but the hypothetical still holds).

(11) Matt made the following comment | Nov 28, 2004 5:13:39 PM | Permalink

Your reasoning's ok, but that's only for the NFL. Here's how I see it:

Normally, if a team has control of the ball in the endzone, and then the ball goes out of bounds, or otherwise downed in the endzone, it is scored a two-point safety. So, when A&M got the ball in the endzone, and then started returning it, the refs ruled that they had control of the ball. Thus, when the ball was downed in the endzone, it was ruled a safety. Under college football's rules, a safety during the PAT is worth 1 point instead of 2. Maybe this cleared it up a bit.

(12) Mike Moore made the following comment | Nov 28, 2004 9:08:36 PM | Permalink

Does anyone know any stats on when the last time this rule was enforced? Or has it ever been called before?

(13) Lee Shore made the following comment | Nov 29, 2004 2:11:37 AM | Permalink

Seems that the easiest way to look at it is that the NCAA rule operates such that if the defense scores off a blocked kick or an intercepted pass or fumble on a two-point attempt, it gains only what the attempt would have been worth to the offense. It's a peculiar situation wherein no one can score a 6-pt touchdown or an ordinary, 2-pt safety.

In the same vein, if an intercepted pass on a 2-pt attempt is fumbled and the offense recovers and runs it into the end zone, that would be worth just two points.

(I'm not sure whether a fumble can be advanced in the NCAA; once upon a time it couldn't be.)


(14) Lance made the following comment | Nov 30, 2004 12:52:35 PM | Permalink

The problem with all of these rules applied to the A&M game is this: The ball was kicked by Texas and the kicked ball touched another offensive player. In the past this constituded a dead try as far as the offense scoring any points. When (or has) this changed?

(15) Eric S. made the following comment | Nov 30, 2004 3:23:13 PM | Permalink


I think someone could get an ordinary, 2-pt safety. If the team that scored the touchdown goes for a 2-point conversion and, say, throws a complete pass and the receiver accidentally runs the wrong way down the field through the opposite endzone, I think it would be a 2-pt safety. But then, would there be an ordinary kick-off?

I seem to remember a similar bizarre play involving the Cowboys and Dolphins on Thanksgiving Day when Jimmy Johnson was still coaching. Miami tried a field goal and it was blocked. Leon Lett then tried to pick up the ball and muffed it, and the Dolphins picked it up and scored a touchdown (at least I think that's what happened--my memory is fuzzy. I know it was snowing and Lett made a bonehed play, but I may have the facts off a bit).

(16) cody made the following comment | Nov 30, 2004 10:41:17 PM | Permalink


A combo of NCAA rules answers (or doesn't, I guess) your question:

4-1-3 says "A live ball becomes dead...:"
e. When a player of the kicking team catches or recovers any free kick or a scrimmage kick that has crossed the neutral zone.

6-3-3-1a says "A scrimmage kick that fails to cross the neutral zone continues in play."

and 6-3-3-2a says "No inbounds player of the kicking team shall touch a scrimmage kick that has crossed the neutral zone before it touches an opponent."

I'm not sure if the PAT try (a scrimmage kick) crossed the neutral zone or not without glancing the leg of a Texas player; regardless, the ball stays live. That only determines which of the above paragraphs apply.

The ball wasn't dead at any point during the play, until it was downed in the end zone. Once touched by an A&M player, either team could have recovered (so Texas would've scored 2 points if they had recovered their own botched kick).

Make sense?

(17) Lance made the following comment | Dec 1, 2004 10:54:37 AM | Permalink

So the criteria to check on a tried kicked ball is:
1) has the ball crossed the line of scrimage (nz)
2) has the Def touched the ball

seems easy enough. I know the first touch of the Texas player was behind the line of scrimage. The ball bounced around after that and there was no clear picture of what happened to it.

(18) bill thompson made the following comment | Dec 3, 2004 2:27:34 PM | Permalink

It is entirly possilbe ,however, extremely unlikly for the defense to score a saftey during an extra point try.

For example, in an offensive player ran 98,97 yards the wrong way and was tackled in their own endzone. The result,the defending team is awarded one point. Or, if a recovered fumble was returned close to the other goal line, to be fumbled and then recovered by the offense, who where then tackled in their own endzone. This, also, would give the defense a one point saftey, but is only possible in the NCAA.
And, infractions commited in the endzone would also resultlt in a 1 point saftey.

Is this ture i think it is, and how many safteys of any type have been scored in any league during extra point tryes

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