Today's Tidbit... It's Time For Football's Two-Yard Penalty
The 1906 season was a seminal season for rule changes. The forward pass became legal, as did the onside kick from scrimmage, the neutral zone entered the game, and the yards to gain for a first down doubled from five to ten. Those were among the significant changes in 1906, but there was another small change whose story is seldom told: the introduction of the two-yard penalty.
By football’s tradition, only the team captains could call timeout, and there was no rule limiting how often they could call time until the 1906 rule makers decided time could be called three times per team per half. Calling time more than three times per half resulted in a two-yard penalty, which, as far as I can tell, was the only two-yard penalty in the game's history.
An exception to the rule allowed for more than three timeouts per half when tending to an injured player. However, not every official knew all the rules back in 1906, and those that knew the rules sometimes did not follow them. That was likely the situation in the 1906 Notre Dame-Indiana game when the Hoosiers put a licking on the Irish 12-0. Late in the game, Notre Dame stopped play due to an injury:
Callicrate, of Notre Dame, had his anatomy slightly disarranged. This was the fourth injury of the half for Notre Dame, and the team suffered a two-yard penalty as a result.
'Indiana University Wins Championship,' Star Press (Muncie), November 11, 1906.
Assuming the reporter had the details correct in his story, either the ref made an incorrect call, or he decided that Notre Dame was feigning injuries and charged them with a foul and two-yard penalty.
Fifteen or sixteen years later, when teams began huddling, some officials did not like the practice, but football did not have a rule prohibiting huddles. Nonetheless, certain referees enforced two-yard penalties, reasoning that teams that huddled were effectively calling a timeout. Once teams huddled more than three times in one half, they were penalized for doing so.
Since a loss of two yards was not significant, teams began strategically taking extra timeouts for a short rest and a chance to communicate with one another. Penn, for instance, incurred six two-yard penalties against Alabama in 1922. The deliberate taking of penalties led to a 1924 rule giving teams four timeouts per half while increasing the penalty for an extra timeout from two to five yards. That ended the practice of deliberately calling extra timeouts.
In 1930, some suggested applying a two-yard penalty instead of awarding or disallowing points when fouls occurred on extra-point attempts. Instead, a 1931 rule led to enforcing penalties on extra point attempts just as they were during regular play: the officials stepped off the standard yardage penalties on offensive penalties and half the distance on defensive penalties.
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