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.

Georgia ‘parts ways’ with four-star 2017 signee accused of assaulting mother of his child

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Not surprisingly, D’Antne Demery‘s time Between the Hedges was a brief one.

Earlier Sunday, reports surfaced that the 2017 Georgia signee had been arrested Saturday night in downtown Athens on misdemeanor charges of criminal trespass and simple battery.  The alleged victim, the mother of Demery’s one-year-old child, accused the recruit of assaulting her twice, the first time, after a verbal argument, by “grabbing her on the back of her neck… pushing her against the wall, and also grabbing her by the hair” and the second after allegedly throwing her.

Not surprisingly, UGA subsequently announced in a press release that Demery has been released from his signed National Letter of Intent. In other words, he has been summarily dismissed from Kirby Smart‘s football program.

Demery was a four-star 2017 recruit, rated as the No. 20 offensive tackle in the country; the No. 22 player at any position in the state of Georgia; and the No. 204 on 247Sports.com‘s composite board. Th 6-5, 319-pound lineman was one of 18 four-star players in Smart’s second recruiting class at the school.

After signing in February, Demery had been scheduled to report with the rest of the incoming freshmen in June.

Tom Herman pulls California QB recruit Cameron Rising away from Oklahoma

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Tom Herman has made his share of news since his late November arrival in Austin, but Saturday evening was probably the first time his Big 12 and national rivals perked up and took notice of the new Texas head coach for something that will happen on the field of play.

The Longhorns landed a commitment from Newbury Park, Calif., quarterback Cameron Rising, which would be news in and of itself. The 6-foot-3 signal caller is rated the No. 3 pro-style quarterback and No. 52 player nationally by Rivals for the class of 2018, making him the highest-rated player in Texas’s 4-man class.

But Rising’s pledge is especially notable for where he was already committed: Oklahoma. Rising had been committed to Oklahoma since August and publicly firmed up his pledge as recently as January. “I’m extremely happy (with the decision),” Rising said at the time. “The program is so good, they’re moving in the right direction. They had a slow start but then they picked it up and it was like a warm nice through butter.”

Herman’s tweet brings up an interesting point: the quarterback Oklahoma is most likely to target to replace Rising is the other Texas quarterback pledge.

Casey Thompson, hailing from Moore, Okla., became the first Texas quarterback commitment just nine days before Rising. Beyond just living in the Sooner State, Thompson is also the son of a former Sooner and the brother of another.

In fact, Oklahoma waisted no time in reaching out to Thompson. “OU hit me up already,” Thompson told Burnt Orange Nation, but Thompson indicated Herman and company told him ahead of time Texas would sign two quarterbacks.

And in a note the Texas coaches have likely reminded Thompson of in the past 24 hours, they offered Thompson before Rising. “Me and the [Texas] coaches have a very good relationship. I knew they planned to take 2 from the jump. Their current QB room is thin!”

Oklahoma may very well retaliate to Herman’s plunder with a steal of their own. But the point is Herman has arrived in the Red River Recruiting Wars, and he’s playing to win.

LSU lands Randy Moss’s son as tight end transfer

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They say these things happen in threes, so any program employing Warren Sapp‘s son better start preparing now. Days after Ray Lewis‘s son announced a transferRandy Moss‘s has done the same.

Thaddeus Moss announced his intention to leave NC State for LSU on Sunday, doing so in a post on his Twitter account.

Moss was recruited to NC State by then-Wolfpack offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Canada tried to get Moss to decommit and follow him to Pittsburgh, but that initial refusal worked out for the pair in the end.

“He had gotten fired and I had already gotten my mind made up,” Moss told The Advocate. “He had messaged me and was telling me stuff about Pitt and this stuff. It was all of this stuff. I don’t even think I messaged him back.

“That was actually the very first thing he said when he saw me. ‘Hey, you remember when I messaged you?’ It worked out for the better good.”

Ranked the No. 6 tight end in the class of 2016 by Rivals, Moss started three games last fall for NC State. He caught six passes for 49 yards and a touchdown.

As an undergraduate transfer, Moss will have to sit out the 2017 season before having three seasons to compete for the Tigers.

Michigan meets with refugees as part of Italian Spring Break trip

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Michigan is in Rome for Spring Break and Jim Harbaugh determined an act of charity would be the Wolverines’ first item of business upon landing on Italian soil.

After landing in Rome at 9 a.m. local time, the Wolverines immediately headed to the Borghese Gardens, where they distributed backpacks filled with blankets, shirts and shorts to refugees.

“What an experience,” quarterback Wilton Speight told the Toledo Blade. “I saw on the itinerary that we were going to have an opportunity to meet some refugees, but I didn’t know it was going to be like this where we could dive into each other’s lives and teach each other a thing or two about our background, our culture, our favorite sport. It’s been a cool experience.”

And for those wondering, Harbaugh has not reduced his Harbaugh-ness while overseas. In fact, the dollar-to-euro conversion may have actually increased it.