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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.

Barry Switzer and Tulsa have some fun with Baker Mayfield’s arrest

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 10:  Baker Mayfield #6 of the Oklahoma Sooners walks off the field after a 24-17 loss against the Texas Longhorns during the 2015 AT&T Red River Showdown at Cotton Bowl on October 10, 2015 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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I’m sure you’ve heard by now, but Baker Mayfield was arrested over the weekend.

Enjoying some down time in Fayetteville, Ark., Mayfield was booked on charges of public intoxication, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and fleeing the scene.

Those last two parts have drawn the brunt of the attention since the news went public, specifically this portion from the police report:

I told Mayfield to come over to me. When I gave that command, Mayfield began to walk away from me. I repeatedly told him to stop. Mayfield then began to sprint away. I chased after him. Mayfield was tackled to the ground.

In the hours since, Mayfield has taken some shots both from within and without. First up is College Football Hall of Fame former Sooners coach Barry Switzer.

And next, oddly, comes from the official account of Tulsa athletics.

For what it’s worth, Mayfield shredded Tulsa in their one meeting to date in 2015, hitting 32-of-38 passes for 487 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions while rushing 13 times for 85 yards and two touchdowns in a 52-38 Sooners win.

UCF announces largest financial gift in school history for athletics department renovations

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UCF announced the largest financial gift in school history from UCF alum Kenneth Dixon. The donation will help give UCF the support needed to move forward with its athletics facility upgrades, including an athletics village. Among those upgrades will be an expansion to the school’s baseball stadium and basketball facility, as well as a better atmosphere outside the football stadium for fans.

As far as the football program is concerned, the upgrades to the football operations and athletics headquarters have received a $2 million commitment to date. Most of the renovations will help bring the school’s other sports programs up to a more level playing field, but the football stadium will be given a fresh look on he outside with a plaza and promenade to make for a more inviting atmosphere for UCF fans before and after home football games.

In all, UCF is looking to invest $25 million in the renovation project, and the recent donation from Dixon has helped the school cross the $10 million benchmark.

“With more than $10 million committed to our $25 million facilities vision, our goal is to build the best Athletics Village in the nation,” UCF Athletics Director Danny White said in a released statement. “Thanks to Ken Dixon’s gift of more than $5 million, we’ve taken a major step in that direction.”

Duke QB Thomas Sirk to transfer

Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk (1) looks to pass against North Carolina during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk is leaving Durham in search of a new place to play football in his final year of eligibility. Duke announced Monday morning Sirk will transfer in 2017.

Sirk was recently declared a no-go for Duke’s spring football practices as he returns from an Achilles injury suffered last season. Sirk was granted an extra year of eligibility, his sixth, from the NCAA last November. It will be his final year of eligibility.

Sirk was Duke’s leading passer in 2015 with 2,625 passing yards and 16 touchdowns with eight interceptions. He was also Duke’s leading rusher that season with 803 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns. Naturally, he will likely be a quality dual-threat option for whatever program lands his services in 2017. As a graduate transfer, he will be eligible to play this fall at any FBS program.

Minnesota Row the Boat bobblehead features Gopher mascot rowing a boat

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 3: Goldy, mascot for the Minnesota Golden Gophers performs before the game against the TCU Horned Frogs on September 3, 2015 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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With the rights to use “Row the Boat” successfully acquired through a deal with Western Michigan, Minnesota is going all in with the merchandising efforts to capitalize on the motto of P.J. Fleck. Aside from being able to use the motto for program-building measures, Minnesota has the rights to market the saying on merchandise, including an upcoming bobblehead featuring Minnesota’s Gopher mascot.

A limited edition University of Minnesota bobblehead featuring Goldy Gopher rowing a boat was unveiled on Friday by the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum. Though just an illustration now, it looks incredibly promising and I sort of want to add it to my bobblehead collection.

The bobbleheads are available for pre-order at a cost of $40.00. They should begin shipping in July of this year, in plenty of time for the first season of the Fleck era at Minnesota.