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NCAA proposes significant changes to kickoffs


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.
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23 Responses to “NCAA proposes significant changes to kickoffs”
  1. dcroz says: Feb 9, 2012 7:12 PM

    Wow, talk about some ludicrous proposals. Does it not occur to the Rules Committee that moving touchbacks out to the 25 might instead lead to kickers trying to kick higher and shorter so that the ball is fielded inside the 10…and that having to wait longer for it plus the defenders being closer would potentially give them MORE chances for a bonecrunching hit?

    And does anyone else see the potential for abuse of the “loss of helmet” rule? Want to get rid of a dominating defensive lineman for a play so that your running back has a better chance to bust one or that your QB has more time to pass? Just pop that chin strap so that he has to go to the sideline. I think this rule would lead to FAR more than two lost helmets per game.

    I know that the Rules Committee has the safety of the players in mind, but I don’t see how these rules help assure that. Like it or not, football is a brutal sport and guys are going to get injured no matter what you do to protect them. It is the risk they knowing assume when they walk out onto the field. Sometimes you’ve just got to let them play.

  2. mrslay1 says: Feb 9, 2012 7:25 PM

    Leave the game alone. It’s been working fine for well over 100 years!! Why don’t you people figure out a playoff system to fix something that doesn’t work instead of trying to screw up what does work!

  3. mhalt99 says: Feb 9, 2012 8:02 PM

    mrslay1 says:

    because 100 years ago linebackers were about the size of Adam Vinatieri and 50 years ago linebackers were the size of David Beckham. Today the average linebacker is about 240-250 with something like 10% body fat, a 400 lb bench and a 500 lb squat…….that would be the reason……oh and don’t forget to re-read the first sentence of the article. A kid was just paralyzed…..just a tad more important than a playoff system so you have a couple extra saturdays to drink beer in a parking lot…don’t ya think?????????

  4. centexhorn says: Feb 9, 2012 8:11 PM

    No, don’t change the game.

  5. mrslay1 says: Feb 9, 2012 8:20 PM

    No I do not think it is. This is a sport, a activity that has hitting and hitting hard. The only way you change that is stopping play. Eeveryone who plays knows that there are risks of all kinds and this stupid attempt to stop that, is just that. Stupid!! Anyone playing football could have the same thing happen and nothing can change that! By your snide comments about drinking beer in the parking lots you obviously are not a real football fan, so take your busy body nose and put in someones else’s business! Football fans like things the way they are.

  6. mhalt99 says: Feb 9, 2012 8:23 PM

    exactly you are a fan my friend. you have never played the game and obviously don’t care about the players which is the reason for the snide comment. you sound like a nascar fan that goes to the track to see the accidents.

  7. thekatman says: Feb 9, 2012 8:28 PM

    I tis up to the Referees to do a walk-through of both teams in their locker rooms prior to the teams taking the field, to ensure that the players are properly protected. For example, one of the reasons the helmets are flying off is because the helmets are not fitted properly and tightly. There is no way a player could just slip it on with one hand if the helmet was fitted properly. They should have to use both hands at the ear hole and pull apart to get the head inside. The refs are not performing their saftey checks as they are required to do. How about penalizeing the referees for not performing thier duties to the NCAA specifications that have been in existence for years.

  8. tmb333 says: Feb 9, 2012 9:55 PM

    @thekatman……finally someone else who recognizes the problem. Players do not properly wear their helmets. If they did, they would not come off. A properly fitted helmet locks into place using the occipital protrusion.

    Someone above mentioned popping the chin strap would leave to players being forced off the field. First if the helmet is properly fitted, unsnapping the chin strap would not allow it to come off. Secondly, having a chin strap come unsnapped is not what they are talking about. It is the helmet coming off the head. What’s wrong with expecting the players to wear the equipment as it was designed to be worn?

    They should also barr a player from further participation if they were found to be missing and pads and if their pants did not completely cover their knees.

    The refs, since they are hired by the conference, are scared to enforce rules. The wrong team gets penalized the refs get blackballed. Think how much pressure is on them at the end of the year when the wrong team winning could mean millions in revenue to a conference and all the teams.

  9. mrslay1 says: Feb 9, 2012 9:56 PM

    Played through college as did my son and I hate nascar. You must have never played anything but yourself.

  10. mhalt99 says: Feb 9, 2012 10:13 PM

    mrslay1 says:

    getting old but there is insight there. you have a son and you played some 20-30 years ago? that goes back to my earlier comment about the linebackers being the size of beckhams. as for your son…is he playing 1A at a top 25 where they have the 240lb 4.5 40 linebackers or is he at a 1AA, 2 or 3. Please note I respect any and all levels and am not trying say anything other then at the top 25 schools the guys have gotten so big and so fast that F=M*A….as the muscles have grown however the bones have not grown denser, therefore the force that is being played with is much more dangerous. Also what position does your son play? was he a qb or was he a wedge breaker? if he was a wedge breaker i would guess you would have a different attitude.

    If after all of this you are still don’t understand what I am talking about then let me ask you this. How many players need to get paralyzed a year before things should be changed? 2, 3, 4, 5? what if it was 20 per year? would that be ok? we all know the risks. the last time paralysis became an issue we went back and studied the problem and found that players need to keep their heads up as the majority of severe neck injuries happened when the head was pointed down as it left the spine exposed. should they not have outlawed spearing back then?

    I really really really don’t understand you. Seriously, how many kids would have to get paralyzed per year before you would change your stance?

  11. thefiesty1 says: Feb 9, 2012 11:18 PM

    The worst thing that happened during my officiating career was on a kick off return and a kid was injured (compound fracture of his leg). Football is a high impact sport but Anything they can do to protect the players makes the game better for everyone.

  12. blitz4848 says: Feb 10, 2012 8:01 AM

    Gotta like the “miss the next play rule” for losing the helmet. The last few yrs have been all about players getting “face time” by NOT buckling up properly.

    Agree about leaving the game alone but come on. More helmets have been off the last few years than in the prior 50!!!!

    You can bet if the player knows he sits a play the helmets will all of a sudden STAY ON!!!!

  13. florida727 says: Feb 10, 2012 8:09 AM

    I’m all in favor of anything that protects the players’ safety. Remember, there’s a VERY small percentage of them that’ll actually earn a living playing the game. The vast majority will join the 9-to-5 crowd.

    But the “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” comment is about as absurd as any justification thought I’ve seen in sports. What? How long do you think it takes an elite college athlete to get to full-speed? You think that because the coverage guys start 5-yards closer that they will NOT be going at break-neck speed when the collision occurs? Man, get a freaking clue…

    I agree with a previous post. Go ahead and move the kickoff to the 35 if you want fewer kick returns, but do NOT put the ball out to the 25 on touchbacks. That WILL encourage more kickers getting the ball to the 5 or 10 so their coverage teams will “win” the kick game by stopping the opponent from getting to the 25-yard line. It’ll actually create MORE high-speed collisions.

    Is there a particular reason why the NCAA does NOT have people knowledgeable about sports on their committee instead of some administrator geeks that probably never put on a jockstrap? If you’re going to determine rules governing sports, at least know something about sports.

  14. pdcooper08 says: Feb 10, 2012 8:09 AM

    A few touched on it earlier and made comments regarding the players where the ones not wearing there helmets correctly. That might be the case in a few incidents, but I happen to think it’s more about the helmet it’s self and the makers. The helmets the past decade have really changed. The material or shell is much stronger now and larger in size, but it is also much lighter weight. The helmet area around the ear hole is shaped very different now. It appears the chin straps don’t fit as snug as they once did. They don’t appear to strap down as tight, therefore, when a big hit occurs the helmet flies off. When the player picks up the helmet, the chin strap appears to still be secured. On the other hand, I have seen some QB’S and WR’s fail to secure both straps, and when struck in the face mask or helmet it gets launched. I’d like to see the helmet sized down a little and maybe add a few more ounces to it’s weight. This may help keep helmets where they belong.

  15. kaf39 says: Feb 10, 2012 9:29 AM

    i see where they are coming from, but no need to change the game.

  16. buckeye1nation says: Feb 10, 2012 11:48 AM

    pdcooper08 says:On the other hand, I have seen some QB’S and WR’s fail to secure both straps,

    I have seen several players in both College and NFL who have four point helmets, 4 point chinstraps but leave the top snap on both sides unsnapped. 4 point chin straps are a great way to make sure that the helmet is secure (and I heard that there is now a 6 point strap) but only if used properly..

  17. mogogo1 says: Feb 10, 2012 12:15 PM

    Helmets coming off all the time is becoming a distraction but I’m not convinced these proposed changes are the way to go. The biggest problem is that guys wear helmets that are too large and they compound it by frequently not strapping them up completely.

    A properly fitted helmet doesn’t swivel freely on your head but some guys have helmets that are so loose they’re on the verge of falling off from gravity when they get in a three point stance. You also frequently see guys messing with their helmets after every play which you don’t have to do if they’re properly fitted.

  18. ndfan4ever says: Feb 10, 2012 4:44 PM

    Stop messing with the game please. The helmet issue with them coming off is that players have to much hair under their helmets these days so they have to wear them loose. Make a rule if you can’t read the name on your back then cut your hair and you will see a lot of helmets no coming off anymore period. The Rutgers player that was injuryed was a freak injury these things happen and no rule chages will make it not happen ever. How about we just play two hand touch. Its football.

  19. floridacock says: Feb 10, 2012 5:43 PM

    Leave the game alone. Play/watch soccer if it is too much for you.

  20. mrslay1 says: Feb 10, 2012 10:28 PM


  21. pdcooper08 says: Feb 11, 2012 4:33 AM

    ndfan4ever: Your just making a funny right? To much hair, really? I agree with you regarding the lose hair hanging over the name tag. But how does that apply to a school Penn St, Navy or Airforce. They don’t wear name tags or have any indivduals trying to sport the Fijian warrior look.

    The problem is the helmet shell is being made much larger then before and the weight is half now. If not strapped properly, it flies off easily.

    When a player is issued a helmet, they are fitted first by there equiptment man who is certified to do so. The player doesn’t have a say in what size helmet he wants. Therefore he takes the helmet that’s been given to you.

    But I’m good with not messing with the game. Just let the boys play!

  22. waynekingwerx says: Feb 13, 2012 12:21 AM

    Wow it seems no one has really hit the point. If you notice whose helmets come off the most you’ll be able to tell that if these players were to cut their dread locks off then the helmet might actually stay on longer. But I definitely agree with the comment about the players making their helmets more prone to falling off in hopes of more face time. BTW, I apologize if my comment comes off as prejudicial. It is not intended that way. It’s just my own observation.

  23. pdcooper08 says: Feb 14, 2012 2:03 PM

    Dead locks? Really? What the percentage of players are wearing them. I’ll bet it’s a small number. Actually the thicker the hair, the more cushion or padding to exorb a head blow. Which leads to less head injuries.

    I do agree that all the hair flying out the back of the helmet does not look good and serves no purpose. As well it’s a health risk. Just ask Polomalu how he felt when he got scalped.

    I think head coaches should consider hair length as part of there dress code and get rid of the indivdual attention seeker.

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