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NCAA Approves Football Rule Changes

Get ready for my touchbacks and sky kicks.

The full release from the NCAA:

The Playing Rules Oversight Panel (PROP) during its conference call on Tuesday approved moving the kickoff and touchback lines beginning with the 2012 football season.

Next fall, teams will kick off at the 35-yard line instead of the 30. Also, players on the kicking team can’t line up for the play behind the 30-yard line, which is intended to limit the running start kicking teams used to have during the play.

Also, touchbacks on free kicks will be moved to the 25-yard line instead of the 20 to encourage more touchbacks. Touchbacks on other plays (for example, punts that go into the end zone, or fumbles that go out of the end zone) will remain at the 20-yard line.

The recommended changes came from the Football Rules Committee after that group examined NCAA data showing that injuries during kickoffs occur more often than in other phases of the game.

Another new rule that goes into effect next season is if a player loses his helmet (other than as the result of a foul by the opponent, such as 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 the play, in order to protect him from injury.

Data from the 2011 season indicated that helmets came off of players more than twice per game.

The rules panel also approved new wording in the football rules book regarding blocking below the waist. Offensive players in the tackle box at the snap who are not in motion are allowed to block below the waist legally without restriction. All other players are restricted from blocking below the waist with a few exceptions (for example, straight-ahead blocks).

There will also be a new rule prohibiting players from leaping over blockers in an attempt to block a punt. Receiving-team players trying to jump over a shield-blocking scheme has become popular for teams in punt formation. Receiving-team players try to defeat this scheme by rushing into 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 Football Rules Committee raised concern 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.

The biggest approved rule change pertains to kickoffs. In 2011, the NFL implemented new kickoff rules in an effort to address injuries and now the NCAA has followed suit. Basically kickers will get an extra five yards by kicking from the 35 instead of the 30. This should ensure more kickoffs go into the end zone at a greater frequency. In addition, the NCAA sweetened the touchback "pot" by bringing the ball out to the 25 instead of the 20. In other words, a returner who fields in the endzone would need to make it to the 25 to make it worth bringing it out. Since the kicking team will be five yards closer I imagine any time the ball is in the endzone, even by a couple of yards, the touchback will be taken. Interestingly, the 25 yard line touchback will only be used on "free kicks" and not punts. During a punt the 20-yard line will still be the touchback line on balls ending up in the endzone. This will also be the case for interceptions, fumbles that are recovered by the opposing team in the endzone and fumbles that go out of the back of the endzone.

Of course with any new rule there will be changes in how kicking teams handle the kickoff in an effort to gain field position. That means we will see more sky kicks and efforts to put the ball in front of the goal line to force a return into coverage. A high kick would also allow for the kick coverage team to get into position to prevent a return and thus force the receiving team to start inside the 25. It will be interesting to see who much this is used. If you have a kicker and coverage team who can execute it then why not do it all the time? In fact, if the kicker can put enough air on the kick, he could force a fair catch at the ten negating 15 yards that could potentially be gained on the touchback.

Also in the list of rule changes is one I found really interesting because it basically confirmed what I saw throughout the 2011 season. Helmets were apparently coming off players' heads at an alarming rate. I actually noticed this but thought it was just strange happenstance. As it turns out, the NCAA says their data showed helmets coming off more than twice per game. As a result of this epidemic of flying helmets, the NCAA is adding a rule which says a player losing his helmet, for reasons other than a facemask, will be treated the same as an injured player and not be eligible for the next play. My guess is players are wearing their helmets too loosely resulting in them coming off more easily than they should. Or the helmets have a mind of their own, you be the judge. It is an odd rule nonetheless and at some point a key player is going to be forced out of a game at a crucial juncture over it.

These new rules will be in effect next season meaning there will be quite a bit of time spent in spring practice on sky kicks and returns.