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New Kickoff Rule All But Eliminates Kick Returns

Have we seen our last kick return? Not yet, but you won’t see near as many.

Getty Images - Cooper Neill

Coordinator of Officials Greg Burks took the stage on Big 12 Media Days on Tuesday to go over new rule changes for 2018. Over the last few years, proposed changes have been focused on player safety and, as games encroach on the four-hour mark, pace of play. 2018 will be no different. On of the biggest rule changes is coming to kickoffs.

Fair Catch On Kickoff

Free Kick Fair Catch Rules

The rule allows the receiving team to call a fair catch on a kick off, and if done so between goal line and the 25-yard line, it will be considered a touchback by rule, and the ball will be placed at the 25-yard line.

Kickoffs have come under fire to be made safer over the last couple of years as evidence shows injuries during this time tend to be more severe. Researchers at Center for Injury Research and Policy at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH, found that a third of all injuries on kickoff returns are considered severe.

“Everyone is in chase mode on kickoff returns,” Rogers Redding, the NCAA Football Rules Committee secretary-rules editor and national coordinator of college football officials, said at the time. “Before the return starts, the kicking team is flying down the field and the receiving team players are running back to protect the runner. There are some collisions, but mainly, the more significant collisions happen on the return and not the kick.”

This isn’t the first time the NCAA has tweaked the rules in an attempt to lessen the number of returns. In 2012, kickoffs were moved up to the 25-yard line to make it easier for teams to kick it through the back of the end zone. In addition, touchback were moved up from the 20-yard-line to the 25-yard-line; gifting the receiving team five additional yards.

What the safety commitee found though, was that teams got better at kicking the ball high and short of the goal line to force a return.

“Teams have become more proficient at the pooch kick putting it inside the 25,: Greg Burks, Coordinator of Officials said at Big 12 Media Days on Tuesday. “So giving the receiving team the not opportunity to make that catch, a fair catch, just like they do on a punt and taking the ball at the 25. So that will be a new wrinkle this year that we hope will encourage the ball to just be kicked through the end zone and we have a touch-back.”

So why even have a kickoff then, if you effectively eliminate the return from the game?

“The problem is,” Burks said, “how do we give the kicking team an opportunity to get the football back with an onside kick when they are behind in the game, and smarter minds than mine will have to work out how that happens so that works more effectively. But this is the first attempt to try to give teams an opportunity to be at the 25 and limit contact on kickoffs.”

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