Kickoffs will never be the same. Well, kickoffs will be, but kick returns on the other hand …
In a move centered on improving player safety, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved a new rule on Friday that will allow the receiving team to fair catch kickoffs inside the 25-yard line and have it result in a touchback, placing the ball to begin the ensuing offensive drive at the 25-yard line.
“The Football Rules Committee made the proposal to continue efforts to increase the number of touchbacks during kickoffs since fewer injuries occur during kickoffs that result in touchbacks than on kickoffs that are returned,” the NCAA said in a release. “All other aspects of the kickoff play will remain the same.”
This rule change was likely motivated by teams adjusting to the previous rule change of placing touchbacks at the 25 instead of the 20-yard line. Teams began doing more sky kicks and pooch kicks, forcing returners to catch the ball around the 10- or 15-yard lines with coverage teams bearing down on them because of the extended hang time.
It will be an interesting development to watch and learn how coaches and kickoff/return units re-adjust to this latest change early on in the season and as it progresses, especially when the special teams features a dynamic and dangerous returner.
The new kickoff/kick return rule is the most significant in a handful of new rules that will go into effect during the 2018 season.
Also approved by the panel are the following changes:
- “The offense will not be allowed to block below the waist when the block occurs more than 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Additionally, other than the interior linemen, all blocks below the waist must be from the front.”
- “The addition of a 10-second runoff was approved when instant replay overturns the ruling on the field inside of one minute in either half, and the correct ruling would not have stopped the game clock.” An example of the enforcement of this rule occurred in an NFL game between the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions last season. The Lions were originally ruled to have scored a touchdown with just a few seconds remaining, but replay showed the player was down before crossing the goal line. After overturning the call, the 10-second runoff ended the game.
- “Leaping rules on field goals and extra points were adjusted to mirror similar rules regarding leaping the shield on punting plays. It is illegal to leap over the frame of the body of an opponent.”
- “On successful field goals, penalty enforcement will be the same as on made extra points. Namely, all personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct fouls by the defending team will have the option to be enforced on the ensuing kickoff.”