The NCAA took a major step toward eliminating kickoffs on Friday when it announced a rule change that now allows players to fair catch a kickoff between the goal line and the 25-yard line and have it be treated as a touchback, with the ball coming out to the 25. (Obviously, any kick that lands in front of the 25 can still be fair caught and be downed at the spot it was caught.)
The obvious end game here is to make kickoff returns as rare as possible, to the point where their eventual elimination altogether would not seem like a major change to the game.
Nick Saban would’ve liked to see a different solution, one that would reduce the number of kickoff returns while not eliminating certain strategic elements from the game. Via SDS:
“I would have liked to have seen a different solution. I understand the reason, I respect the reason — which is player safety, but I guess I’ve been around long enough to remember when we use to kick off from the 40-yard line,” Saban said. “There were too many touchbacks, so we moved it back to the 35.
“So, for us old timers, I thought it would be an easier solution to just move it back up to the 40-yard line, because you’d get more touchbacks but you could still sky kick, onside kick — which you can still do some of those things, but you sky kick trying to give someone bad field position and they can fair catch the ball on the 15-yard line and get it on the 25.
“That takes some of the strategy out of the game, to me, with the result that we had. And you would have had the same result if you just moved it up five yards because almost everybody in college football would kick nothing but touchbacks… and you still would have all the strategies that you could have used in other circumstances.”
Of course, Saban is a defense-first coach, and a sky kick from the 40 — with the goal of forcing the offense to fair catch the ball at the 15, without the option to bring it out to the 25 — would undoubtedly benefit the defense. So Saban is arguing from his self-interest here.