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Rarely-enforced 'sideline interference' rule from Bison game meant to protect officials from being injured

FARGO--It's one of those rarely-enforced rules that occasionally crop up in a college football game, and North Dakota State was on the wrong end of such a call Saturday night against Charleston Southern.

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FARGO-It's one of those rarely-enforced rules that occasionally crop up in a college football game, and North Dakota State was on the wrong end of such a call Saturday night against Charleston Southern.

It was met with some resistance by some Bison fans at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome and on social media. Sideline interference, what is it?

In general, if an official has to avoid a player or coach in the white "coach's box," a six-foot area adjacent to the sideline, then the team is subject to a penalty. It's a judgment call as to how severe the infraction is, said Bill Carollo, the coordinator of officials for the Big Ten Conference, which assigns officials for all Bison football games.

It's a stepped approach, he said, and only can be enforced on a live ball.

"Let's say you walk in front of an official, or you happen to be in that area and didn't cause trouble, I would consider that a warning," Carollo said. "If it's a second time but you don't get in my way, five yards. A third time, five yards. Everything after that is 15 yards."

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NDSU got a 15-yarder on its first offense late in the third quarter after Chase Morlock took a pass for 22 yards to its 45-yard line. The Bison were penalized from the spot of Morlock's gain. They maintained a first-and-10 from their own 30, but three ensuing plays netted just six yards and they punted.

The call didn't factor into the outcome since NDSU scored the next time it had the ball to take a 17-10 lead. The Bison eventually won 24-17 in overtime in the ESPN FCS kickoff game.

Bison head coach Chris Klieman said the official told him he ran into a Bison coach on the sideline, which turned out to be offensive line coach Conor Riley.

"Conor said, coach, I brushed him," Klieman said. "I actually can't believe it doesn't happen more at the Fargodome with as many people as we have on our sideline and as tight as it is."

Klieman wasn't certain of the warnings portion of the rule and he would have to address a rule clarification with the Big 10 office, said NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen. There were no replays from both the TV production or the NDSU game video that showed the infraction, Carollo said.

Larsen said fan reaction was nothing out of the ordinary.

"I think you always get feedback from the fans whether it's good, bad or indifferent," he said. "That's pretty typical and I think it's typical wherever you go."
The reason for the rule is rather simple, Carollo said. Officials have been injured running into people on the sideline, at times getting blindsided since they're watching the action on the field while sprinting down the field.

"We've had too many officials injured running into say a camera guy, those things can be big and heavy," Carollo said.

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As in years past, the Big Ten has an officials' evaluator at all games. Carollo also has a staff of referees with NFL experience evaluate film on Sunday mornings, grading every play and every call. A report card for the officials of every game is due by Wednesday.

"I thought they did OK for an opening game," Carollo said. "It was a good game by both teams. Well played. There were few mistakes in the game (by officials) but overall the guys were ready to work and let the guys play. There were 12 accepted penalties, which is a little below average."

Charleston Southern was whistled for six penalties for 45 yards and NDSU had six for 70 yards.

Related Topics: CHRIS KLIEMAN
Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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