NCAA proposes significant changes to kickoffs

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A short time after watching Eric LeGrand paralyzed from the neck down covering a kickoff, then-Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano questioned why kickoffs were still being utilized and suggested eliminating the play from the game of college football.

While it’s highly unlikely such a ban would ever be enacted, the NCAA is looking to take steps to ensure greater player safety on kickoffs.

Following a series of meetings that began Tuesday in Charlotte and ended Thursday, the NCAA Football Rules Committee announced it “has recommended several rules proposals intended to enhance student-athlete safety for the 2012 season.”  Included is a proposal that could significantly impact kick returns at the collegiate level.

The committee voted to move the kickoff to the 35-yard line (currently set at the 30-yard line), and to require that kicking team players must be no closer than five yards from the 35 at the kick, which is intended to limit the running start kicking teams have during the play. The committee also voted to move the touchback distance on free kicks to the 25-yard line instead of the 20-yard line to encourage more touchbacks. NCAA data indicates injuries during kickoffs occur more often than in other phases of the game.

The effects of such changes would appear to be twofold.  One, moving the kickoff out to the 35-yard line would increase the number of kickoffs that reach the end zone.  And, two, coaches may be inclined to encourage his returner men, because the spot of a touchback would be moved out to the 25-yard line, to take a knee when a kickoff reached the end zone.

Add both those together and it’s very likely the number of kick returns would decrease, thus decreasing the chance of injury on a play the NCAA’s data suggests is more dangerous than any other in the game.

“In all of our proposals, we are continuing the annual effort to find ways to make our game safer where we can,” said Scot Dapp, chair of the committee and athletics director at Moravian College, in a statement that accompanied the NCAA’s release. “Without question, these changes will enhance student-athlete safety and we feel very comfortable based on the data we collected that the impact will be significant.”

The NCAA went on to explain that the proposals can be implemented immediately because they deal with player safety.

Even though it is a non-rules change year as part of the two-year cycle process, these rule changes can be proposed for immediate implementation because they directly impact student-athlete safety.

The other proposals approved by the committee appear below:

  • Loss of Helmet During Play. If a player loses his helmet (other than as the result of a foul by the opponent, like a facemask), it will be treated like an injury. The player must leave the game and is not allowed to participate for the next play. Current injury timeout rules guard against using this rule to gain an advantage from stopping the clock. Additionally, if a player loses his helmet, he must not continue to participate in play to protect him from injury. Data collected during the 2011 season indicated that helmets came off of players more than two times per game.
  • Blocking Below the Waist. The intent of the changes made last season were to only allow blocking below the waist when the opposing player is likely to be prepared for this contact, but the opposite impact was discovered in some cases. To clarify the intent, the committee approved wording that essentially allows offensive players in the tackle box at the snap that are not in motion to block below the waist legally without restriction. All other players are restricted from blocking below the waist with a few exceptions (e.g. straight ahead blocks).
  • Shield Blocking Scheme on Punting Plays. The committee reviewed several examples of shield blocking, which has become a popular blocking scheme for punting teams. In several cases, a receiving team player attempts to jump over this type of scheme in the backfield to block a punt. In some cases, these players are contacted and end up flipping in the air and landing on their head or shoulders. The committee is extremely concerned about this type of action and proposed a rule similar to the leaping rule on place kicks that does not allow the receiving team to jump over blockers, unless the player jumps straight up or between two players.
  • Additional Protection to Kick Returner. Through officiating interpretation, the committee approved a recommendation to provide a kick returner additional protection to complete a catch before allowing contact by the kicking team.

You’re getting old part 9,374: Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne’s son commits to Boston College

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Today in ‘You’re getting old,’ part 9,374: Ron Dayne’s kid will soon play college football.

While it seems like just yesterday that the ‘Great Dayne’ was running wild at Wisconsin and winning the 1999 Heisman Trophy, the soon-to-be 40-year-old will be back in college football in a different light: as a dad. That’s because his son, Javian Dayne, just committed to Boston College as part of the class of 2018.

The elder Dayne amassed 7,125 yards on the ground over four seasons at Wisconsin, a mark that is more than any other player in college football history but good for second on the NCAA all-time list behind San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey due to the lack of counting bowl stats back in the day. The younger Dayne doesn’t have quite the same size and stats as his dad but wasn’t too shabby at Waunakee (Wis.) High in running for 4,269 yards and 56 touchdowns the past three years.

“I absolutely hated the process,” Javian told the Wisconsin State Journal of his recruitment. “I was one of those people who wanted to get it over with. I didn’t like the process at all. … We did a lot of traveling around.”

The six-foot, 200 pound recruit is listed as a two-star by 247Sports and was recruited heavily by the Eagles since November. He’ll have a tough time becoming the starter with A.J. Dillon coming off a 1,500 yard season as a freshman but could be in the mix with several others to see some carries early on with primary backup Jon Hilliman transferring to Rutgers.

Either way, the first time the cameras find Ron Dayne on the sidelines at a Boston College game watching his son will be yet another reminder that we’re all getting very, very old.

Oregon reportedly poaches Wazzu assistant Jim Mastro as Ducks’ new running backs coach

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Alex Grinch isn’t the only member of Mike Leach’s staff who is ticketed out of Pullman this offseason.

According to Sports Illustrated’s Bruce Feldman, Oregon had poached Washington State assistant Jim Mastro to be the Ducks’ new running backs coach and run game coordinator.

Mastro has been with the Cougars since joining Leach’s initial staff at Wazzu back in 2012 and has quite a bit of experience out west, including 11 seasons at Nevada and a year at UCLA. He replaces Donte Pimpleton, who followed former Oregon coach Willie Taggart to Florida State several weeks ago.

Interestingly, this is the third straight offseason that the Ducks have poached an assistant from their Pac-12 North rivals. Quarterbacks coach David Yost left for Eugene back in 2015 while Taggart hired defensive line coach Joe Salave’a last year. Mastro should have plenty to work with upon arrival with senior Tony Brooks-James and youngster Darrian Felix likely leading the way on the ground.

Kevin Sumlin brings familiar Texas A&M face with him to Arizona’s coaching staff

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Kevin Sumlin is still sorting out his new staff at Arizona but reportedly has his special teams coordinator locked up and it’s a familiar face from his previous stop in College Station.

While Texas A&M’s former special teams coordinator Jeff Banks was hired for the same position at Alabama, Sumlin has hired his No. 2 in Jeremy Springer to be the Wildcats’ new special teams coordinator, a source told Sports Illustrated this week. The trio worked together for three years with the Aggies as Springer assisted Banks in the crucial third phase of the game.

Springer was originally ticketed to join another former Sumlin assistant in David Beaty as a staffer at Kansas but instead will head west to the desert. His most recent formal title was quality control special teams/tight ends assistant at Texas A&M but he’ll be an on-field coach in Tucson.

Springer played linebacker for UTEP and is still pretty fresh-faced in the coaching profession having graduated from the school in 2011.

Tennessee still trying to remove Butch Jones billboard at Neyland Stadium… months after he was fired by the Vols

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It’s been nearly two weeks since the national championship game which means that Jeremy Pruitt has been in Knoxville as the new Tennessee head coach for some time now leading the program. Despite that fact, there’s still a visible reminder every day when he drives into work of the previous regime that was in charge of the Vols.

That’s because there’s a giant 35-by-30-foot picture of former head coach Butch Jones still up on the outside of Neyland Stadium… over two months after he was fired by Tennessee. According to the Times Free Press, the picture could even be up past signing day in February as the rather slow change is made for an item that isn’t as easy for the school to alter as the media guide is.

“That’s not an easy process,” athletic director Phillip Fulmer told Knoxville NBC affiliate WBIR. “There’s mechanical things involved to get that done. It’s not just, ‘Let’s take down a picture off the wall or a graphic.’ We’re working through that.

“It is important to us, because it is important to reflect what we’re doing. It’ll be done in due time. I’ve heard the same thing from the chancellor. She wants me to speed it up, too. We will. We’ll get there.”

Funny enough, the giant picture of Jones (flanked by UT legends Reggie White and Robert Neyland) replaced an image of Fulmer from when the team won the BCS title 20 years ago. Something says they might revert back to that look with their now-AD until Pruitt can establish himself with the program over the next few years to prevent a repeat of this fiasco.

As the Times Free Press notes, it took Florida State just a week to scrub Jimbo Fisher‘s likeness from Doak Campbell Stadium but it might be three months before the Vols can do the same with their coaching change. It may not delight the fan base to see Jones some more but this is clearly one area on Rocky Top that is decidedly not moving at SEC-speed at the moment.