NCAA approves kickoff rule change for 2018

By: Matt Jones
Published: Friday, April 13, 2018
Arkansas' Connor Limpert kicks off during a game against Mississippi State on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas' Connor Limpert kicks off during a game against Mississippi State on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Fayetteville.

— A number of changes were approved by the NCAA's rules panel Friday that will be enforced beginning in the 2018 football season.

Notably, the panel approved a proposal to allow kickoff returners to fair catch inside the 25-yard line for a touchback. Ensuing drives will begin at the 25-yard line.

No other changes will be made to the kickoff.

The spirit of the new rule is to reduce the number of collisions on kickoffs. According to the NCAA, fewer injuries occur on kickoffs that result in touchbacks than kickoffs that are returned. The kickoff is one of the most dangerous plays in football.

“The committee discussed the kickoff play at great length and we will continue to work to find ways to improve the play,” said Larry Fedora, the North Carolina coach who is chairman of the committee, last month. “We believe making one change will allow us to study the effect of this change in terms of player safety.”

It is the third notable change to kickoffs in the past six years. In 2012, kickoffs were moved up five yards to the 35-yard line, and touchbacks advanced the ball from the 20 to the 25, creating a greater incentive for return men to take a knee on kickoffs that reached the end zone.

Other notable rule changes approved Friday pertain to blocks below the waist and pace of play.

The offense will not be allowed to block below the waist more than five yards past the line of scrimmage and all non-interior linemen will be required to block below the waist from the front of the defender.

A 40-second clock will be used between touchdowns and extra-point or two-point attempts, and between kickoffs and the first play of the ensuing possession.

“In discussions with the college football community, the committee’s goal is to identify ways to keep the game moving and reducing as much as possible the down time in the stadium,” said Steve Shaw, the SEC's head of officiating who also is the NCAA's secretary rules editor. “These changes will not take plays out of the game, but will positively impact the flow of the game.”

Other changes approved Friday include:

-A 10-second runoff when instant replay overturns an official's ruling inside the final minute of the first or second half, and a correct ruling would not have stopped the clock. A timeout can be used to avoid a 10-second runoff.

-Leaping rules on field goals and extra points will closer resemble leaping rules on punts. It is illegal to leap over the frame of an opponent's body.

-Any 15-yard penalty on made field goals can be enforced on the kickoff.

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