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.

Ohio State super fan signed memorial photo of Earle Bruce, and Ohio State players were not happy

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The Ohio State football family paid their last respects to former Buckeyes head coach Earle Bruce this week, from family, friends, former players, coaches, and fans. Among those paying their respects was one of Ohio State’s most visible fans, the so-called Buck-I-Guy (the one who dresses up like a cowboy, and not the face-painting fan you see during every broadcast of an Ohio State game). A memorial photo of Bruce to be signed by Bruce’s former players accumulated plenty of signatures, but one of those signatures was not welcome by Bruce’s former players.

A sign made it clear the photo was to only be signed by former coaches and players that have played for or worked under Bruce. Whether he missed the sign or just felt he was as much a part of the Ohio State football program as the players, the self-proclaimed “Buck-I-Guy” signed the photo.

The signature clearly did not sit well with Ohio State players, and somebody ended up obscuring Buck-I-Guy’s signature by covering it up with an image of a buckeye.

Helmet sticker to Eleven Warriors.

Oregon’s Fotu Leiato arrested after removing vehicle’s parking boot

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For the second time this week, we’ll be forced to rest the “Days Without An Arrest” ticker back to double zeroes.

The latest to do the deed is Fotu Leiato, with the Eugene Register-Guard reporting that the Oregon outside linebacker was arrested Wednesday evening by university police on charges of second-degree criminal mischief and second-degree theft.  It’s alleged that Leiato removed a parking boot from the vehicle he was driving; it’s unclear what led to the parking boot being attached in the first place.

The Register-Guard also writes that “Leiato was also booked into the jail on a failure to appear warrant from Eugene Municipal Court, stemming from a second-degree criminal trespass charge.” What led to that charge is unclear as well.

All three of the charges Leiato is facing are misdemeanors, and the football program has yet to publicly address the developments.

The rising fourth-year senior has played in 37 games the past three seasons, including all 13 in 2017.  His lone start came during the 2017 season against Southern Utah.  He’s been credited with 37 tackles, one tackle for loss and two passes defensed during his collegiate career.

Michigan heads to France for Wolverines’ European Vacation, The Sequel

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Brace yourself, Paris, for the 2018 version of the Khaki Invasion.

Last year around this time, the Michigan football program took a trip to Italy as part of a spring practice schedule that included meeting the Pope as well as distributing backpacks to refugees.  Thursday, as previously announced, the U-M program is leaving Ann Arbor to head to Paris and Normandy for what this year will be strictly a true vacation as the Wolverines’ have already put the finishing touches on their 15 spring practice sessions this year.

According to mlive.com, this year’s trip will include “tours of the famous Louvre Museum, Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral, a football clinic for locals, civic and community service events.”

“It’s an educational opportunity,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said according to the Detroit News. “(We all) connect. Not all learning is done in the classroom or on the football field.”

The Wolverines will be entering their fourth season under Harbaugh.  In the previous three years, they’ve gone a combined 28-11 and finished third (2015), third (2016) and fourth (2017) in the Big Ten East.  Last year, Harbaugh was the highest-paid coach in the Big Ten and the third-highest in the country at just a shade over $7 million.

Wyoming’s Craig Bohl issues statement on Josh Allen’s controversial tweets

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Yes, this is really a thing.

Josh Allen is expected to be one of the first. if not the very first, players selected in the 2018 NFL draft that kicks off tonight.  However, overnight, years-old tweets surfaced after they were mined from the former Wyoming quarterback’s personal Twitter account that have landed the rocket-armed signal-caller in a bit of hot water.

Specifically, some of the tweets that surfaced, which have since been deleted, had Allen dropping n-bombs and other offensive language posted in 2012 and 2013, when Allen would’ve been around 15 or 16 years old.  While it was later learned that most of the words in the offending tweets came from popular television shows or movies, Allen has since apologized by stating he was young and dumb.

With the Allen camp in full damage-control mode — Allen reportedly called Stephen A. Smith at two a.m. this morning to explain and apologize for the tweets — his former college football program has gotten involved as well, with Craig Bohl issuing a statement of support for his ex-quarterback.

“I know Josh has apologized for the Twitter comments he made while in high school,” the Cowboys head coach stated. “As a member of our football team, he had great relationships with his teammates and our fanbase. During his time at Wyoming, he embraced diversity. We wish him all the best on his big night.”

Despite the mini-controversy less than 24 hours before the draft, it’s not expected that it will impact Allen’s positioning.