The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel voted this month to modify kickoff rules in college football. The new rule change allows the receiving team to fair catch the kickoff anywhere within the 25 yard-line. This will result in a touchback, stopping the play as dead and allowing the receiving team’s offense to begin their drive at their 25 yard-line with no return. The previous rule allowed for this fair-catch to take place only in the receiving team’s end zone.
This rule is an extension of the kickoff rule changes made in 2012, moving the actual kickoff from the kicking team’s 30 yard-line to their 35 yard-line and allowing the offense of the receiving team to begin their drive on their 25 yard-line after a touchback as opposed to the 20 yard-line.
This new rule, along with the rule changes in 2012, are for the purpose of increasing touchbacks on kickoffs to reduce the number of returns in an effort to increase safety. The sport of football has introduced a multitude of rule changes within the past few years in an effort to increase safety-special teams plays, like kickoffs and punts, have been a huge target of these rule changes. It’s not difficult to see why these plays are targeted. These are often the plays that involve the most high-speed collisions as players have a majority of the field to build up speed for tackles or blocks as opposed to a small 10-15-yard window.
While rule changes made in order to increase player safety often face criticism, like the recent NFL rule addition that prohibits offensive players and ball carriers from lowering their head preemptively to an oncoming tackler. However, this new kickoff rule seems to have struck some empathetic cord with most. The national championship runner-up University of Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart lamented that while it could diminish the value of a good kicker, it doesn’t change his preparation and ultimately his team has aimed for touchbacks to be the result of their kicks anyways, as this is the safest option for all players involved. Kansas State University Head Coach and William Jewell College alumni Bill Snyder said that he was all in favor of any rule that increased player safety and prevented injuries.
Perhaps it was the rule changes of 2012 that were the precursor to this generally sweeping change against kickoffs, or perhaps the culture of football is simply becoming more aware of the issue of player safety and long-term health. In this instance, it seems as though many are willing to sacrifice a relatively large change in the sport to facilitate an improvement in safety. Whether this attitude will continue or if we will see the same backlash over future safety regulations is yet to be seen.
Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated