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.

Vols ‘very confident there was no inappropriate conduct’ between Butch Jones, player

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 11:  Head coach Butch Jones of the Tennessee Volunteers watches the action during a game against the Chattanooga Mocs at Neyland Stadium on October 11, 2014 in Knoxville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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In the midst of reports that he had a physical altercation with one of his Tennessee players during summer camp this year, Butch Jones labeled the speculation “absolutely ridiculous.”

Apparently, his bosses agree with the head coach.

At a board meeting Thursday, UT-Knoxville chancellor Jimmy Cheek stated that he and athletic director Dave Hart had done their “due diligence” in investigating the accusations that Jones and senior offensive lineman Mack Crowder were involved in some type of physical skirmish during practice this past August.  The end result of interviews with Jones, coaches and players was the conclusion that there was nothing to the reports and message-board rumors.

“There’s been a lot of rumor and misinformation on social media and message boards about an alleged incident during football practice,” Cheek said according to‘s Wes Rucker. “It’s not our practice to respond to rumors, but I thought it was important to let you know that we’ve done our due diligence and Dave Hart and I are very confident there was no inappropriate conduct with any players or coaches.”

Shortly after Cheek spoke at the board meeting, Crowder took to Twitter with a series of missives that speaks around the issue.

Michigan’s keeping ‘fingers crossed’ for leading rusher’s availability

De'Veon Smith
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Michigan played without its leading rusher in Week 5.  The Wolverines are hoping there won’t be a repeat in Week 6.

De'Veon Smith sustained a lower-leg injury in the Week 4 win over BYU and didn’t travel with the team for last Saturday’s win over Maryland.  Smith has been practicing with his teammates throughout the first few days of this week, and head coach Jim Harbaugh is guardedly optimistic that the running back will be available for what’s turned into a huge Big Ten matchup with Northwestern Saturday in the Big House.

“He’s practicing and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he’s going to stay good and be ready to play,” Harbaugh said during a radio appearance Thursday morning. “But we’ll (keep) looking at that every day.”

Despite essentially missing a game and a half, Smith currently leads the Wolverines with 331 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. He’s added four receptions for 35 yards and a touchdown coming out of the backfield the first four games.

Should Smith be unable to go again, the Wolverines have three other backs with at least 100 yards on the ground: Ty Isaac (187, 7.2 yards per carry), Drake Johnson (125, 4.2 ypc) and Derrick Green (100, 3.3 ypc).

In addition to Smith, Harbaugh is hopeful Channing Stribling will be available this weekend as well.  The starting cornerback didn’t play against the Cougars because of injury