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.

Tennessee LB Cortez McDowell’s season might not be over after all

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In the end, there could be an injury silver lining for Tennessee after all.

In the aftermath of the deflating last-second loss to rival Florida, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones announced that Cortez McDowell would miss the remainder of the 2017 season.  The linebacker sustained an injury to his wrist that, at the time, was deemed serious enough to shelve him for the rest of the year.

The key here is “at the time” as, a couple of days later, the prognosis has brightened slightly as Jones allowed Wednesday that McDowell could return at some point this season.  Whether it’s late in the regular season or even for a bowl game, the coach at least left the door open for the senior to play again in 2017.

Obviously, any availability would be determined in the coming weeks by the program’s medical staff.

McDowell would be eligible for a medical hardship waiver if he shut it down for the remainder of the season, which would give the fourth-year senior another year of eligibility to use in 2018.  At least at this point in time, that’s not the tack that either the player or the football program is taking.

After starting four of 12 games last season, McDowell started the first three games this season prior to his injury.

 

Derrius Guice ruled out for LSU’s game vs. Syracuse

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So there you have it.

Late in the third quarter of Saturday’s 37-7 loss to Mississippi State, Derrius Guice sustained an injury to his left knee.  While Ed Orgeron downplayed the severity of the injury in the ensuing days, he allowed during his turn on the SEC coaches teleconference Wednesday that his star running back is “very questionable right now” for the Week 4 game against Syracuse.

Later that night, on the head coach’s radio show, the very questionable morphed into completely out.

Through three games, Guice leads the Tigers with 300 yards rushing and is tied for tops on the team with four rushing touchdowns. His rushing yards are currently fourth in the SEC; last season, his 1,387 yards were tops in the conference.

With Guice unable to go, Darrel Williams (28-159-4) will likely be next in line to shoulder the brunt of the running-game load.

Mason Rudolph’s younger brother sees freshman season at Clemson come to an injury end

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Mason Rudolph is looking at the rest of the season as an opportunity to continue pushing his way into the Heisman discussion and his team deeper into the College Football Playoff picture.  His younger brother, on the other hand, is looking at rehab.

Wednesday night, Clemson announced that Logan Rudolph will miss the remainder of the 2017 season because of a shoulder injury.  The defensive end sustained the injury during a Tuesday practice, and will undergo surgery at some point in the future to repair the damage.  Rudolph dealt with a shoulder issue late in his high school career, and it’s believed this is related to that.

A four-star member of the Tigers’ 2017 recruiting class, Rudolph was rated as the No. 23 weakside defensive end in the country and the No. 4 player at any position in the state of South Carolina.  After enrolling early and participating in spring practice, the true freshman played in two games as a backup behind starter Austin Bryant.  In that limited action, he was credited with three tackles and one tackle for loss.

Because of how few games he’s played, Rudolph would be eligible for a medical redshirt.  That would allow the lineman to extend his eligibility out through the 2021 season if he so desires.

Getting back to the famous name-drop in the lede, Rudolph’s older brother, of course, is the starting quarterback for No. 6 Oklahoma State.

Iowa struggling to sellout game vs. Penn State

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The Iowa Hawkeyes are about to host a top-four team at Kinnick Stadium this Saturday night, and it seems there is slightly more trouble trying to sell out the game than anticipated. According to Mark Emmert of the Des Moines Register and Iowa City Press-Citizen (and not the NCAA president by the same name), Iowa still had 4,000 tickets for this week’s game against No. 4 Penn State sitting in the box office as of earlier today.

Price concerns for the game coupled with a delay in knowing the kickoff time apparently had some influence on the unexpected ticket availability this close to the game.

Schools are becoming more and more commonly known for having higher-priced tickets for the more marquee games on their home schedule, and Iowa is no exception. Iowa has tiered ticket pricing for their home games, and Penn State being the defending conference champion with a decent traveling fanbase made this week’s matchup an ideal fit for being priced in the higher tier. Later this year, Iowa’s home game against Ohio State will also be priced at $95. $95, for some, is not worth the effort to go to a game and tailgate all day. It may be fine for a good number of fans, but it’s not for everybody.

Having to wait to know what time a game will kickoff can be a nuisance for those football fans who like to plan ahead. And while a primetime game may be great for exposure, it can be a cumbersome chore for some fans who would much rather stay home and not have to deal with a late-night drive home.

So if you are looking to get a ticket to the game this weekend in Iowa City, you may have a good chance to pick up a ticket.