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.

Ex-Alabama WR T. Simmons officially a WVU Mountaineer, too

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In the post below this, we noted that Jovani Haskins is officially a member of the West Virginia football program.  T.J. Simmons can say the same as well.

After Simmons announced it via social media over this past weekend, WVU has confirmed that the wide receiver has signed a grant-in-aid for the 2017-18 academic year and will continue his collegiate playing career with the Mountaineers.  That continuation won’t happen immediately as, after sitting out the 2017 season to satisfy NCAA transfer bylaws, Simmons will have three years of eligibility remaining with the Mountaineers.

Simmons had decided last week to transfer out of the Alabama football program.

A three-star member of the Crimson Tide’s 2016 recruiting class, Simmons was rated as the No. 58 receiver in the country and the No. 9 player at any position in the state of Alabama.

As a true freshman, Simmons played in 12 games, mainly on special teams.  In this year’s annual spring game, the 6-2, 201-pound receiver caught six passes for 82 yards and a touchdown for the Crimson Tide.

WVU makes addition of ex-Miami TE Jovani Haskins official

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One down, one to go.

Over the weekend, both former Miami tight end Jovani Haskins (HERE) and ex-Alabama wide receiver T.J. Simmons (HERE) indicated on social media that they would be transferring and continuing their collegiate playing careers at West Virginia.  Monday, WVU confirmed that the former has signed his grant-in-aid for the 2017-18 academic year.

Haskins will have to sit out the 2017 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.  Beginning with the 2018 season, he’ll have three years of eligibility remaining.

A three-star member of the Hurricanes’ 2016 recruiting class, the 6-4, 245-pound Haskins was rated as the No. 18 tight end in the country and the No. 10 player at any position in the state of New Jersey.  He took a redshirt as a true freshman.

Earlier this month, Haskins opted to transfer from The U in order to “get a fresh start somewhere else.”

Haskins is the third Power Five player to officially transfer to the Mountaineers this offseason, joining former Syracuse defensive back Corey Winfield (HERE) and ex-Miami quarterback Jack Allison (HERE).

Texas JUCO reported landing spot for former four-star Auburn DT

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A little over a month after leaving The Plains, Antwuan Jackson has reportedly settled on a new college football home.

Citing multiple sources familiar with the situation, 247Sports.com is reporting that Jackson has signed with Blinn Community College in Texas.  The defensive tackle will play for the JUCO this season, with his eyes set on a return to the FBS level, perhaps as early as December.

On his Twitter account earlier Monday, Jackson hinted at an unspecified development regarding his football future.

In mid-May, Jackson announced his decision to transfer from Auburn. AU blocked him from transferring to a handful of schools he had requested, including Ohio State. It’s believed the Buckeyes have emerged as the favorites to land the lineman when he jumps back to the FBS level.

Jackson was a four-star member of AU’s 2016 recruiting class, rated as the No. 7 defensive tackle in the country; the No. 5 player at any position in the state of Georgia; and the No. 49 player overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite board.  Only three players in the Tigers’ class that year were rated higher.

As a true freshman last season, Jackson took a redshirt.

Nova, Auburn’s live eagle mascot, grounded for 2017 season

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Auburn will be forced to go to a backup when it comes to its famed pregame mascot flights.

The university announced Monday that’s live eagle mascot, War Eagle VII, has ben grounded for the entire 2017 season.  The university stated that its College of Veterinary Medicine faculty diagnosed the 18-year-old golden eagle with cardiomyopathy, a chronic disease of the heart.

The diagnosis was made following what was described as a routine checkup.

Below are the comments of the veterinarians in charge of the care of an eagle who has been a part of gamedays on The Plains since 2004.

Nova has been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, indicated by an enlarged left ventricle, decreased systolic function and supraventricular premature complexes (arrhythmia),” said Dr. Seth Oster, an avian veterinarian at the raptor center and the college’s Wilford and Kate Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital.

“These areas of constriction can increase the systolic pressure of the heart so that Nova’s heart has to pump harder to move blood around his body,” said Oster. “This type of problem could have multiple causes, the most common of which in birds is atherosclerosis.”

“Vessels that are constricted, like those that are seen in Nova’s scan, can have dangerous complications when put under increased stress from exercise,” said Dr. Seung-Woo Jung, an assistant professor of cardiology in the Department of Clinical Sciences at the College of Veterinary Medicine. “This includes aneurysm or clot formation that could lead to vascular rupture, stroke, aortic thromboembolism or heart attack.

The release added that due to “the risk of severe medical complications, veterinary medical staff decided that Nova should not be placed in situations that cause his heart to work harder than usual, including flying in the stadium before each game.”

With War Eagle VII sidelined, pregame duties will fall to Spirit.

Spirit is the only bald eagle that has ever flown in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Her first game flight was in 2002, and she is recognizable by her bright white head and tail feathers. In 1995, Spirit was discovered as an injured fledgling in Florida. She came to Auburn in 1998 and joined the educational collection at the Southeastern Raptor Center. Her damaged beak makes her non-releasable.