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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.

Baylor suspends dog-beating WR for three games, makes him give canine ‘to animal-friendly home’

FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 27:  Nick Orr #18 of the TCU Horned Frogs makes a pass interception against Ishmael Zamora #8 of the Baylor Bears in the first quarter at Amon G. Carter Stadium on November 27, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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After a couple of weeks of outrage over yet another incident involving one of its football players, Baylor has finally pulled the trigger on actually doing something of substance.

In a press release Tuesday evening, Baylor announced that wide receiver Ishmael Zamora has been suspended for the first three games of the 2016 season.  The suspension comes 12 days or so after a video surfaced that showed Zamora beating his dog with a belt and kicking the animal.  The incident happened in June, and ultimately resulted in a citation for misdemeanor animal cruelty.

In addition to the suspension, the university also levied the following punishments on the wide receiver: “Zamora must perform 40 community service hours in a manner that will teach him kindness and respect toward animals, must undergo counseling and must relinquish the dog to an animal-friendly home.”

The player agreed to release the details of his punishment as it’s not university policy to divulge such information publicly, the school made sure to note in its release.

Last season, Zamora caught nine passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns.  The sophomore has been expected to play a bigger role in the Bears’ passing game with the departure of All-American Corey Coleman, as evidenced by the fact that, just yesterday, Zamora was listed as a starting wide receiver on the depth chart released by the Bears.

The suspension will cost the receiver games against FCS Northwestern State, SMU and Rice.  Zamora will be eligible to return for the Sept. 24 Big 12 opener against Oklahoma State.

Below are the statements released by the university in connection to this development.

ZAMORA
“I am sorry that I took out my frustration on my dog and accept the punishment that comes with it. This incident will never, ever, happen again. I truly love my dog, however, I know that my actions showed differently and I know that I made a big mistake.

“I apologize to my family, teammates, Baylor University and our fans for my actions.

“Eventually, I hope that everyone can see who I really am and that I am not a terrible person. This incident does not and will not define me, and I know that I am the one who will have to prove that to others in the days ahead.”

INTERIM HEAD COACH JIM GROBE
“Our football program does not condone this behavior by anyone. We are deeply saddened by it and have worked together with the University to hold Ishmael accountable for his actions.

“We have received communications about this incident from many passionate individuals over the past 10 days, and I am aware of their concerns. Our goal is for this discipline to be educational and restorative, and I believe that we have taken corrective measures to help Ishmael learn from his actions and to better understand the behavior we demand of all students at the University.”

ATHLETIC DIRECTOR MACK RHODES
“Ishmael’s behavior toward his dog is disheartening, and is not condoned. We believe with proper counseling and training Ishmael can learn from this and I expect that of him. I’ve conveyed to him my expectation that his actions and his service will illustrate his commitment to change.”

Dee Dowis, Air Force’s all-time leading rusher, killed in car wreck

Dee Dowis
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Air Force is today mourning the loss of one of the most beloved players in the football program’s history.

The service academy confirmed Tuesday that Dee Dowis was killed in a vehicle accident in Gwinnett City., Ga., Monday.  Dowis was 48 years old, and is survived by his wife Tracie and two children.

Dowis was a three-year letterman and graduated from the Academy in 1990.

“I don’t have adequate words to describe what a personal loss this is for me,” Dowis’ head coach, Fisher DeBerry, told the Colorado Springs Gazette. “It’s a sad day for Falcon football. I’m sure so many people who enjoyed watching him play feel as empty as I do today. …

“I am shocked. So saddened. My heart’s broken. It bleeds for Tracie and Madeline and Grant, Dee’s mother and family and for all our Falcon brothers. What a legacy he leaves for all of us and what it means to be a wonderful husband, devoted father, a Christian businessman and leader like he was. But he has secured his eternal home and one day we’ll be able to relive a lot of those Falcons days that we all had together.”

Dowis came to the Falcons as a 150-pound quarterback in the mid-eighties and left as the academy’s all-time leading rusher with 3,612 yards rushing, a record that still remains.  His sixth-place finish in the 1989 Heisman Trophy voting is the highest finish ever for a Falcon, and made him one of three service academy players to finish that high in the voting since Roger Staubach of Navy took home the honor in 1963.

The season that led to that finish, 1,286 yards rushing and 1,285 passing, marked just the fifth time a player had topped 1,000 yards both passing and rushing in the same season.  In 2009, Dowis was a member of the second class inducted into the Air Force Athletic Hall of Fame.

One of Dowis’ teammates during his time at the Academy was Troy Calhoun, the Falcons’ current head football coach.  Obviously, Dowis’ passing had a significant impact on the coach.

“He was the most electric, dynamic and exciting football player probably in the history of service academy football, ever. And yet a better person,” Calhoun told the Gazette. “You just knew he was going to be quite, quite accomplished no matter what he did. Hands down the nicest and most humble human being, period.”

Suspended USC LB Osa Masina reportedly under investigation for sexual assault

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 08:  Antwaun Woods #99 of the USC Trojans and Osa Masina #58 of the USC Trojans pressure Jake Browning #3 of the Washington Huskies on this pass play during the first quarter of a game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean Haffey/Getty Images)
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And now we know a little more of the rest of the story, and it’s potentially serious for one member of the USC football program.

Monday night, Clay Helton revealed that Osa Masina has been suspended for his team’s season opener against Alabama this weekend.  The head coach gave no specific reason or reasons for the sanctions being placed on the linebacker, although a school official subsequently described it as an unspecified violation of team rules.

However, the FOX affiliate out of Salt Lake City is reporting that Masina, a Utah native, is being investigated over sexual assault allegations.  The probe stems from an alleged incident or incidents that allegedly took place over the summer in Salt Lake County.

From the television station’s report:

Cottonwood Heights Police have confirmed the ongoing investigation but have not released details about the alleged crime.

Cottonwood Heights PD, with the help of the Los Angeles Police Dept., served a search warrant last week at a USC practice facility in Los Angeles.

At this point, no charges have been filed.  All questions to Masina’s parents were referred to the defense attorney representing their son.

Masina (pictured, left) was a five-star 2015 recruit who was the top-rated player at any position in the state of Utah.  He played in 12 games as a true freshman last season and was credited with 25 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss, with the highlight of his first year as a Trojan coming on a fumble return for a touchdown in the season-opening win over Arkansas State.

On the preseason depth chart released a week ago, Masina was listed as a backup to starting inside linebacker Michael Hutchings.

Dylan Sumner-Gardner adds four-game suspension to rocky Boise State résumé

PROVO, UT - SEPTEMBER 12: Mitchell Juergens #87 of the Brigham Young Cougars catches this 4th down, 4th quarter go ahead touchdown between defenders Darian Thompson #4 and Dylan Sumner-Gardner #29 of the Boise State Broncos at LaVell Edwards Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Provo, Utah. BYU won 35-24. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
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The roller coaster career of Dylan Sumner-Gardner at Boise State is on a downward trajectory yet again.

Tuesday, Boise announced that Sumner-Gardner (pictured, No. 29) has been suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season.  According to the school’s release, the suspension stems from the defensive back “failing to meet NCAA football academic eligibility requirements.”

Sumner-Gardner will kiss games against Louisiana-Lafayette, Washington State, Oregon State and Utah State.  Provided the current timeline holds, Sumner-Gardner would be eligible to return for the New Mexico game Oct. 7.

After playing in 13 games as a true freshman, Sumner-Gardner started the first four games last year before going down with a season-ending ankle injury.  In November he was arrested on a misdemeanor drug charge, then didn’t travel to BSU’s Poinsettia Bowl win over Northern Illinois in late December because of what was described as an unspecified violation of team rules.  His status for the upcoming season has been a question mark throughout the offseason.

Sumner-Gardner, a four-star 2014 prospect who was the Broncos’ highest-rated recruit in that class, had been a projected starter at safety; with the junior sidelined, Cameron Hartsfield is listed as the starter instead.