NCAA proposes significant changes to kickoffs


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.

Move over Ohio State, Alabama owns the longest road winning streak in the country now

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 22:  Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after their 33-14 win over the Texas A&M Aggies at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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When the final few seconds ticked off the clock and Penn State completed its massive upset of Ohio State on Saturday, a potentially season-altering loss wasn’t the only thing the Buckeyes had to deal with.

As it turns out, that loss was also the end of a very impressive streak. Ohio State had won 20 straight road games (not counting neutral sites) prior to their trip to Happy Valley over the weekend — a string of victories that coincided with the arrival of head coach Urban Meyer. As a result, he become the first college football coach to win his first 20 road games at a school since Walter Camp did back in 1888.

With those two win streaks over, CFTalk wondered who took over the mantle for each.

It probably shouldn’t surprise anybody that it’s now No. 1 Alabama who owns the longest road winning streak in the country at 10 straight games. The last time the Crimson Tide fell away from home or on a neutral field, was way back in 2014 when Ole Miss beat them in Oxford. Oklahoma, Iowa and North Carolina are right behind Alabama with nine straight road victories and it’s possible Clemson joins the group if they can win at Florida State on Saturday.

Nick Saban’s team is off this upcoming week before heading to Baton Rouge to take on LSU so they will be put right to the test to see if they can extend their impressive streak. The Tide also own the longest winning streak in the country at the moment regardless where the game was played with 20 straight wins, which is double what runners up Washington and Western Michigan have been able to do in winning 10 in a row.

As for that streak that Meyer had with 20 in a row on the road to begin his tenure at Ohio State, there’s a much steeper drop off to find who holds the record now. Amazingly you have to go to first year head coach Scott Frost at Central Florida, who has a long, long, long ways to go to catch Meyer given that he’s won just three straight on the road to begin his career. After that, Jim Grobe at Baylor is next in line but he’s won just two games away from Waco.

Police broke up riot of as many as 10,000 people following Penn State’s win over Ohio State

STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 22:  Penn State students rush the field after the Penn State Nittany Lions defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes 24-21 on October 22, 2016 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Penn State beat then-No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday night to capture the biggest win for the program in recent memory.

Naturally, Happy Valley was euphoric at the victory and the massive crowd that took part in a White-Out at Beaver Stadium took the celebration onto the field to and beyond. After jumping over barriers and rushing the field though, the festivities appeared to spill over onto the streets of State College.

That’s where things got a bit dicey as notes that local police said a crowd of some 5-10,000 people (mostly college-aged men and women, not surprisingly) started to form a small “riot” and damaged street lights, signs and set several small fires.

A police statement confirmed that a vehicle was damaged in the process and at least one person was injured when he was struck in the head with a bottle. The Daily Collegian further reported damage to property in the area and that tear gas was used by local and state police to break things up over the course of two hours.

It’s not at all surprising to see a bunch of young, emotional, college-aged kids get a little too excited about Penn State’s big upset. Given what has happened in the town in the past however, it’s a little disappointing to see it escalate into a full-scale riot that needed police to break things up.

AP Top 25: Washington moves into the top four, Penn State enters for first time since 2011

STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 22:  Penn State students rush the field after the Penn State Nittany Lions defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes 24-21 on October 22, 2016 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Ohio State’s loss to Penn State on Saturday night and a handful of other upsets around college football have naturally caused a few reverberations in the latest AP Top 25 poll.

As was the case last week though, Alabama received all but one first-place vote (60, in total) from voters across the country after thrashing a top 10 team at home in now-No. 9 Texas A&M. Jim Harbaugh and Michigan had the other first-place vote.

Clemson and Washington rounded out the rest of the top four, with the Huskies matching their best ranking since 2000 and setting up a big trip to Salt Lake City and No. 17 Utah this week. The Buckeyes did drop to No. 6 overall, just behind fellow one-loss team Louisville, but remained in the top 10 despite the close loss to the Nittany Lions (who entered the poll for the first time since 2011 at No. 24).

Big risers included West Virginia, which entered the top 10 after beating TCU to join fellow Big 12 undefeated Baylor at No. 8. In the SEC, both LSU and Auburn rose six spots from last week, to No. 19 and No. 15 respectively.

In addition to Penn State entering the poll, Colorado and Virginia Tech both returned to the top 25. Houston, Ole Miss and Arkansas all fell out after losses.

AP Top 25 By Conference:

  • ACC – 5
  • American – 1
  • Big 12 – 3
  • Big Ten – 5
  • MAC – 1
  • Mountain West – 1
  • Pac-12 – 3
  • SEC – 6

Here is this week’s updated AP Top 25, with first-place votes noted:

  1. Alabama (60)
  2. Michigan (1)
  3. Clemson
  4. Washington
  5. Louisville
  6. Ohio State
  7. Nebraska
  8. Baylor
  9. Texas A&M
  10. West Virginia
  11. Wisconsin
  12. Florida State
  13. Boise State
  14. Florida
  15. Auburn
  16. Oklahoma
  17. Utah
  18. Tennessee
  19. LSU
  20. Western Michigan
  21. North Carolina
  22. Navy
  23. Colorado
  24. Penn State
  25. Virginia Tech

Group of Five Power Ranking: So long, Houston

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 22:  Greg Ward Jr. #1 of the Houston Cougars is sacked by Demerick Gary #10 of the Southern Methodist Mustangs and Mason Gentry #93 of the Southern Methodist Mustangs in the first half at Gerald J. Ford Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today to pay our respects to the New Years Six hopes of the Houston Cougars. A year after representing the American Athletic Conference in the Peach Bowl by defeating Florida State, the 2016 Cougars have gone from playoff hopeful to New Years Six hopeful to fourth place in their own division. Houston is now out of the running for a big bowl game at the end of the season.

SMU dealt the knockout blow to their rivals Saturday night with a 38-16 victory that took many by surprise. SMU jumped al over Houston early on and never allowed the defending AAC champs to get too close. As a result, Houston falls out of contention for a New Years Six bid in all likelihood unless pure chaos unfolds.

What was bad news for Houston was extra good news for programs like Boise State and Western Michigan, but the AAC still has some valid contenders in the running as well. So does the MAC and Mountain West Conference.

The highest-ranked conference champion from the American Atletic Conference, Conference USA MAC, Mountian West Conference or Sun Belt Conference as determined by the College Football Playoff selection committee will be given an automatic spot in the New Years Six line-up. Here’s how the contenders rank according to me.

1. Boise State (7-0)

The Broncos scored a solid win against BYU on Thursday night to remain undefeated and atop the New Years Six power ranking. Boise State still probably needs to run the table to stay ahead of the curve. One loss could leave Boise State behind some other worthy contenders.

2. Navy (5-1)

Navy scored a big win against Memphis to remain the AAC’s most likely New YearsSix representative heading into the final weekend of October. The Midshipmen have a big conference game this weekend at USF, followed by a game against Notre Dame the following weekend in Jacksonville. The state of Florida could make or break Navy’s chances.

3. Western Michigan (8-0)

Keep rowing those boats! Western Michigan got a good fight from in-state rival Eastern Michigan but he Broncos managed to stay ahead on the scoreboard to keep their perfect record in play. Western Michigan has some very favorable games coming up, and it is starting to get hard to not look ahead to the regular season finale with Toledo.

4. San Diego State (6-1)

Not t be forgotten in the Mountain West Conference, San Diego State continues to win games. The Aztecs should still be a solid threat to win the MWC behind Boise State, and appear as able as Boise State to make a run in the conference. The only thing holding San Diego State back right now is a road loss at South Alabama.

5. Toledo (6-1)

It’s been a weird year for the MAC with Northern Illinois and Bowling GReen struggling, but Toledo is letting everyone know this conference has more to offer than just Western Michigan. The Rockets continue to impress and are also undefeated in MAC play.

On the Radar: Temple, Wyoming, Toledo, Memphis, Tulsa, USF