K.J. Hill had a vague recollection of the last time he wore football pants that covered his knees.
“The last time I played with pads over my knees, it was probably at my calf muscles or my ankles because I was a small little boy playing at 5 years old,” the Ohio State receiver said.
The next time could come Saturday at Ohio State’s spring game if Big Ten officials choose to enforce a new NCAA rule that demands the knees be covered by the pants and enclosed pads.
Big Ten supervisor of officials Bill Carollo said the rule definitely will be enforced when the regular season begins.
Some actions will be tolerated, Carollo said, such as hitching up the pants a little at the line or the natural rise of the pads while running.
“The egregious ones are three or four inches above the knee,” Carollo said “We’re not going to let them start that way, so we have to manage it. We don’t want to be the fashion police out there, but we are going to enforce that rule.”
Carollo said the migration of the bottom of the pants from covering the knee, to rising to the middle of the knee, to now well above the knee primarily for many receivers and defensive backs has been obvious the past several years.
“Now they look like shorts,” he said. “We don’t want to have shorts there. At the same time, more importantly, it’s a safety issue.”
While attending Ohio State’s practice on Monday during the Big Ten-Southeastern Conference diversity clinic for minority officials, Carollo said he reminded several OSU players sporting the shortened pants that officials will be enforcing the rule in the fall. Receiver Parris Campbell was one of those players.
“I kind of just shrugged it off. … I always play like this,” he said, looking at his knees, which were showing, the bottom of the pants tucked up with the knee pad at the base of his thigh. “I’m not really comfortable with the kneepads actually on my knees.”
Hill doesn’t see it as a safety issue.
“For one thing, we receivers and corners, we’re on the outside, we’re not in the trenches, we’re not getting hit like that,” he said. “Plus, it’s a swag thing.”
It’s not just the look.
“We feel faster when we play like that, with nothing covering your knees,” Hill said. “You want to feel light as possible, so that’s one of the reasons we do that.”
Regardless, the style change is coming, Carollo said.
“We’re not going to throw the flag. We’re going to send you out of the game and you will not be playing if your knee isn’t covered with a pad,” Carollo said.
Although the violation doesn’t rise to the level of horse-collar tackles or targeting hits with the helmet, “we’ve gotten to the point where we we’ve put it in that category. It’s player safety. Cover (with) the kneepads.”