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.

Former Alabama OL Dallas Warmack confirms graduate transfer to Oregon

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Reunited and it feels so good.

At least, that’s what Mario Cristobal must be feeling after hearing the good news on Saturday that former Alabama offensive lineman Dallas Warmack had committed to Oregon and would be rejoining his old offensive line coach in Eugene.

Warmack appeared in 16 games during his career with the Crimson Tide but couldn’t crack the rotation in 2017. A former top recruit and U.S. Army All-American as a prep, he will have two years of eligibility remaining with the Ducks and figures to solidify an offensive line that could be among the best in the conference with four players returning with starting experience.

If that last name and Alabama connection sounds familiar, you’d be correct in thinking that Warmack is the younger brother of Chance Warmack — a former top 10 pick who recently won the Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles this past season. Cristobal, who is now Oregon’s head coach, was on the staff in Tuscaloosa when the younger Warmack was originally recruited to the school.

1959 Heisman Trophy winner, LSU legend Billy Cannon passes away at 80

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One of the best players to ever put on an LSU football uniform has passed away as the school confirmed that legendary Tigers star and the 1959 Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon died on Sunday morning at the age of 80.

Cannon was well known for his versatility on the gridiron, playing halfback, fullback, tight end, defensive back and as a return man over the years. His electrifying 89–yard punt return for a touchdown in the final minutes win over No. 3 Ole Miss on Halloween is widely regarded as one of the biggest plays in LSU history and played a key role in him winning the 1959 Heisman Trophy.  He had powered the Tigers to the national title the year prior as part of a storied undefeated run that was capped off by a win over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl where Cannon scored the game’s only points.

After his college career, Cannon was selected as the first overall pick in both the 1960 NFL and AFL Drafts and played professionally for the Houston Oilers, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs. He was inducted into the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1975 and the the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

A mainstay at games and practices in Baton Rouge over the years, Cannon later became a dentist in the area and eventually had his No. 20 retired by LSU.

Ex-WVU receiver Reggie Roberson announces transfer to SMU

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Former West Virginia wide receiver Reggie Roberson seems to have found his new place to call home. Roberson announced his commitment to SMU with a doctored image on Twitter on Saturday afternoon.

By rule, Roberson will have to sit out the 2018 college football season since he is transferring to another FBS program. He’ll be eligible to play again for SMU beginning in 2019, but he will do so with three years of eligibility remaining.

Roberson was a three-star prospect in West Virginia’s Class of 2017 and he played in 10 games as a true freshman for the Mountaineers last fall. In those 10 games, Roberson caught six passes for 30 yards. Roberson is a native of Texas, so moving to SMU will bring him a little closer to home than Morgantown, West Virginia can offer.

Syracuse recruiting director leaves to become scout for Buffalo Bills

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Syracuse recruiting director Asil Mulbah is heading to the NFL. With an announcement on Instagram, Mulbah announced he is joining the scouting department with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

“Excited to announce that I have accepted a position in the Buffalo Bills Scouting Department,” Mulbah said in his statement. “I’d like to thank Coach Babers, the SU football staff, and the players for an amazing two seasons filled with memories I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

Mulbah has previous NFL scouting experience with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has been a part of the Syracuse program since 2016. Prior to his arrival at Syracuse under head coach Dino Babers, Mulbah made stops at Wake Forest and Bowling Green.