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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.

Mark Dantonio ‘disappointed’ watching Connor Cook’s draft free fall

EAST LANSING, MI - NOVEMBER 14: Head coach Mark Dantonio and Connor Cook #18 of the Michigan State Spartans look on during the game against the Maryland Terrapins at Spartan Stadium on November 14, 2015 in East Lansing, Michigan. Michigan State defeated Maryland 24-7. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Every year a player falls unexpectedly in the draft, and this year’s poster boy, aside from Laremy Tunsil‘s gas mask bong and Confederate flag imbroglio, on that front was Connor Cook.

The former Michigan State quarterback was thought by some to have a chance at landing toward the end of the first round, with most seeing him scooped up before the end of the second round. Instead, Cook watched as 99 other players, including six fellow quarterbacks, were selected before hearing his name called by the Oakland Raiders in the fourth round.

It was a mighty tumble for a prospect whose biggest flaw, according to draftniks, was leadership — he famously wasn’t elected as a captain of the Spartans in the preseason, which some considered quite revealing, and damning, for a three-year starter at quarterback.

As hard as it was on Cook, it was just as hard on his former head coach. After watching Cook lead his Spartans to a 34-5 record as a starter the last three years, Mark Dantonio found it difficult to digest his former player’s free fall.

“I was probably living through the entire thing, as well, watched the entire draft,” Dantonio said by way of mlive.com. “I was disappointed. I think that Connor is an excellent football player. He’s done a tremendous job for us here and for his football team, and a lot of that success that we’ve had can be credited to his play and his leadership on our football team. …

“I think it did wear on him as time went on, but he tried to continue to stay above it. I remember when Kirk Cousins was drafted and he was really disappointed in the fact that he had gone in the fourth round and they had drafted a guy in the second round and the first round, and what did that do for his future.”

Speaking of Cousins, the Washington Redskins quarterback who supplanted former Heisman winner Robert Griffin III as the starter, he offered up some encouragement to his fellow Spartan.

Four Auburn Tigers arrested for pot possession

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 28:  Richard Mullaney #16 of the Alabama Crimson Tide fails to pull in this reception against Carlton Davis #18 of the Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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With another weekend in the books, it’s time to, once again, reset ye olde arrest ticker.

The latest football program to send the tracker back to double zeroes is Auburn, with the Opelika-Auburn News reporting that four Tigers football players, defensive end Byron Cowart, defensive back Carlton Davis, wide receiver Ryan Davis and defensive back Jeremiah Dinson, were arrested by the Auburn police department late Saturday night.  According to the News, all four were arrested on a single charge each of second-degree possession of marijuana.

The papers write that “[s]econd degree marijuana possession is listed under Alabama Code – Section 13A-12-214 as a person who commits the crime if said person possesses marijuana for personal use only.”

Head coach Gus Malzahn told the News that he is “aware of the situation and we will handle this matter appropriately.”

The defensive back Davis is the most noteworthy of the pot-smoking foursome.  As a true freshman in 2015, he started at corner for the Tigers and led all SEC freshmen with three interceptions.  He was named to the SEC All-Freshman team at the end of the season.

Cowart, a five-star 2015 signee, played in all 13 games as a true freshman, while Dinson played in nine games in his first season with the Tigers.  The receiver Davis, also a true freshman, didn’t have a reception in 2015 but ran the ball twice for 20 yards.  Davis’ first college carry went for 28 yards.

ESPN tabs seven Big Ten games for primetime kickoffs

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 05:  A view of the logo during ESPN The Party on February 5, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for ESPN)
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Mark your calendars, because these are only five months away! (/sobs)

ESPN on Monday announced seven Big Ten games that’ll kick off in primetime, either on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2, this upcoming season. Not surprisingly, six of the seven feature either Ohio State or Michigan. The list:

Oct. 8: Michigan at Rutgers (7 p.m. or 8 p.m. ET)
Oct. 15: Ohio State at Wisconsin (8 p.m. ET)
Oct. 22: Ohio State at Penn State (8 p.m. ET)
Oct. 29: Northwestern at Ohio State (5:30 p.m. ET)
Oct. 29: Nebraska at Wisconsin (7 p.m. ET)
Nov. 5: Nebraska at Ohio State (8 p.m. ET)
Nov. 12: Michigan at Iowa (7 p.m. or 8 p.m. ET)

Noticeably absent from this list is Michigan State, though the Big Ten has a deal with Fox, too, meaning the Spartans will almost certainly play in primetime at some point this season. Plus, Ohio State and Michigan equal ratings, no matter how good either team is (and both are expected to be pretty good this season, of course).

 

ECU transfer QB Kurt Benkert moves on to Virginia

In this photo taken Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015 East Carolina quarterback Kurt Benkert rolls out to pass during NCAA college football practice in Greenville, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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On April 25, East Carolina announced that Kurt Benkert had decided to transfer out of the Pirates football program.  Less than a week later, the quarterback has found himself a new football home.

On Twitter Sunday afternoon, Benkert confirmed that he will be enrolling at Virginia and continuing his collegiate playing career with the Cavaliers.  Beckert also acknowledged his decision in a text message to 247Sports.com.

“I’m really excited to be here,” Beckert said in a portion of the brief text.

As Beckert is headed to UVa. as a graduate transfer, he will be eligible to play for the Hoos immediately in 2016.  Not only that, but he will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Beckert was named the Pirates’ starter in early August of 2015, but sustained a right knee injury a couple of weeks later that knocked him out for the entire season.  In Charlottesville, Beckert will join a competition that includes returning starter Matt Johns and Texas/Arizona transfer Connor Brewer.