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Change in kickoffs, touchbacks approved by NCAA panel


Significant changes are officially coming to the kicking game in 2012.

Two weeks after the NCAA Football Rules Committee announced it “has recommended several rules proposals intended to enhance student-athlete safety,” the Playing Rules Oversight Panel (PROP) has approved several of those proposals.  The rule change that will most likely receive the most attention is the one involving the spot of kickoffs and where a touchback is spotted.

From the NCAA’s release:

Next fall, teams will kick off at the 35-yard line instead of the 30. Also, players on the kicking team can’t line up for the play behind the 30-yard line, which is intended to limit the running start kicking teams used to have during the play.

Also, touchbacks on free kicks will be moved to the 25-yard line instead of the 20 to encourage more touchbacks. Touchbacks on other plays (for example, punts that go into the end zone, or fumbles that go out of the end zone) will remain at the 20-yard line.

Encouraging more touchbacks was the impetus for the change, with the NCAA stating that data showed injuries during kickoffs occur more often than in other phases of the game.  Of course, the kicking team can, if it so chooses, negate the intent of the rule change by placing kicks high and short of the goal line.  Additionally, returners can simply opt against taking a knee in the end zone and bring a kick out anyways, although it’s hoped by the NCAA that the extra five yards gained on a touchback would encourage coaching staffs to instruct their return men to kneel if a kickoff reaches the end zone.

In addition to the new kickoff/touchback rules, there’s another change certain to cause at least some controversy.  Accepting the recommendation of the committee, PROP has implemented a rule which states that “if a player loses his helmet (other than as the result of a foul by the opponent, such as 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.”

While this rule change will certainly cause some consternation, there really is a simple solution to the oncoming angst: make sure the helmet is properly fitted and buckle the freaking thing the way it’s meant to be.  Do that, and a helmet will very rarely if ever become detached from the wearer’s head, especially at the rate they have been the past couple of years.

Two other rule changes, again targeting improved player safety, were implemented:

  • Approved new wording in the football rules book regarding blocking below the waist. Offensive players in the tackle box at the snap who are not in motion are allowed to block below the waist legally without restriction. All other players are restricted from blocking below the waist with a few exceptions (for example, straight-ahead blocks).
  • Players prohibited from leaping over blockers in an attempt to block a punt. Receiving-team players trying to jump over a shield-blocking scheme has become popular for teams in punt formation. Receiving-team players try to defeat this scheme by rushing into 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.

All of these new rules will be in effect for the 2012 season.

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11 Responses to “Change in kickoffs, touchbacks approved by NCAA panel”
  1. Deb says: Feb 24, 2012 11:53 AM

    Most of these rule changes were inevitable, and we vented our angst over the push for more touchbacks at the beginning of the 2011 NFL season. Thinking of Eric LeGrand and the high potential for similar injuries on kickoff coverage, I just don’t have the heart to do it here.

    The new helmet rule is a rare stroke of genius from the NCAA. After players are held out a few times in critical situations–and have their behinds chewed off by rabid coaches–I expect they’ll remember how to properly buckle their chinstraps. Brilliant. Just brilliant :)

  2. woebegong says: Feb 24, 2012 11:54 AM

    Some of it makes sense, but at the same time, it seems sort of counter productive to try and limit the running start the kicking team can get. If you have a fast enough kid receiving the ball. I don’t think he will think that much about having a touch back placed on the 25 yard line either. As fast as these kids are today, five yards is not much incentive to them. It is probably going to be the only time some of them get in the game, I doubt injuries are cut down much, unless the coaches give strict rules they want these kids to follow.

  3. LogicalConsideration says: Feb 24, 2012 12:06 PM

    I’m with you woebegong, though with a slight variance of reasoning. It just doesn’t take that long for an athlete, especially a highly trained one, to accelerate to maximum speed. By the time they have gone 30 yards, they are are at max speed. So, even if they start from their own 30, they’ll be at max speed by the time they hit the opposing team’s 40 yard line (barring blocks, but that was a slowing factor under the old rules anyway). I think the touchback rule will reduce the # of returns and therefore the number of collisions, but I don’t think the collisions will be at slower speeds.

    Maybe I’m wrong. I would have thought they’d have made some study of it. Perhaps Mr. Taylor or Mr. Kerchval can dig in and see if they have some research to support their reasoning.

  4. lemmam says: Feb 24, 2012 12:11 PM

    good rule changes all made for safety of the players

  5. Deb says: Feb 24, 2012 12:36 PM

    @Logical Consideration …

    The NFL implemented these kickoff rules for the 2011 season and cut the number of kickoff-related concussions by 50 percent.

  6. cometkazie says: Feb 24, 2012 2:20 PM

    I’m with Deb.

    I wish the NFL had as much sense when it comes to changing rules. It doesn’t seem as if college games are slowed down by officials reviews nearly as much as in the NFL.

  7. macbull says: Feb 24, 2012 5:16 PM

    I I read that 45% of all kickoffs in the NFL resulted in touchbacks, therefore the hype about the NFL’s rule change reducing concussion frequency should be put in proper perspective.

    It is time that the NFL mandate helmets with extra padding added to the exterior of the outer shell.

    The “ProCap” which has been successfully used by NFL players who were faced with a choice of retiring from the NFL due to frequent concussions or using the ProCap…Mark Kelso and Steve Wallace chose the ProCap.

    Both players extended their careers (Kelso played 5 more years) until they decided it was time to retire on their own terms. Put simply, the ProCap worked.

    Why the NFL has not mandated the use of the ProCap is an issue the NFL needs to address.

    It is time for football, at all levels, NFL, College, High School, Jr High and PeeWee, to mandate the use of the ProCap.

    Changing the rules might help, but that is not the answer. Improving the safety capability of helmets is the best solution.

  8. Deb says: Feb 24, 2012 10:57 PM

    @Tom ..

    Actually, I don’t favor the rule change, which is why I vented about it last year when the NFL implemented it. The link was just an answer to Logical Consideration’s question about studies. Was in a hurry when posting that but should have noted I’d take anything the NFL reports on player safety with a grain of salt. The league is more interested in preventing lawsuits and Congressional hearings than in preventing concussions and player injuries. I’d need the NFLPA to tell me independently of the league that concussions decreased by 50 percent before I’d believe it. The league is too self-interested to be trusted on this issue.

    I’m completely in agreement with macbull on improving helmet safety as the optimal way of protecting players.

  9. pdcooper08 says: Feb 25, 2012 6:14 AM

    It’s been proven that one can get to full speed in 3 steps. There’s your 5 yards.

  10. cometkazie says: Feb 25, 2012 8:33 AM

    Gotcha, Deb.

    The NFL is interested only in money. Why do they still have the two minute notification? I’m old enough to remember when time was kept on the field, but that’s been gone a long time, but the delay allows more commercial$. So do video reviews.

  11. florida727 says: Feb 27, 2012 1:20 PM

    It pains me to say this… I think the NCAA actually did something intelligent.

    Early talk was that touchbacks would come out to the 30- or even 35-yard line. Pooch kicks would rule the day, leading to more violent collisions at about the 15- or 20-yard line. Now, I’d venture to say kickers will opt to bomb kicks into the end zone knowing that the 25-yard line doesn’t penalize their team much over the 20-yard line of years past.

    The one thing that I think still displays the NCAA’s stupidity factor is the kicking team not being allowed to line-up any farther back than their own 30. These athletes are so gifted, it’ll take about 3 steps for them to be at full speed. That collision down at the receiving team’s 15- or 20-yard line isn’t going to be any LESS violent because the kick coverage guys started on their own 30.

    Now, if the NCAA wanted to REALLY do something regarding kickoffs and player safety, they would REQUIRE that all Special Teams participants use the ProCap helmets… at least on Special Teams plays. If what “macbull” says regarding ProCaps is true, THAT would actually be a good, proactive step in reducing concussion injuries during the most violent of plays in a football game, right?

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