Last week the NCAA Football Rules Committee announced a series of changes that will go into effect in 2012. They included new regulations on blocking, equipment and the like.
The changes that have received the most attention involve kickoffs, which are being moved up to the 35-yard line. Additionally, all members of the kickoff team, except the kicker, must start within five yards of the yard line where the ball is spotted. Lastly, touchbacks on kickoffs will bring the ball out to the 25-yard line.
Presumably, these rules changes were made to protect the players. Are they necessary? Do you think they will be effective? How will this change strategy?
Aaron Torres: I think this rule could go in a number of different ways.
In theory, it seems less likely that we'll have kickoffs even returned, let alone for touchdowns, but we saw similar rules implemented in the NFL game last year with different results. If anything, the altered kickoff rules only encouraged guys to take the ball and try to make a play for their team. Something it had disastrous results; in others it led to one missed tackle, and wider running lanes than ever before.
As for the safety thing, well, I'm torn. As a fan of the sport of football, I am willing to admit what I think the way that we all do: The game is so fast, with such big athletes, that we need to take precaution to protect the kids on the field. I don't think any of us would disagree with that.
The fundamental problem is, if the players on the field aren't concerned about injuries, should it matter what we think as fans? I found it interesting that former All-World Alabama safety Mark Barron (stop drooling, Felder) basically came out at the NFL Combine and said that he didn't like the new safety rules in the NATIONAL...FOOTBALL...LEAGUE. His theory in essence, "I knew the danger when I signed up, and I live with that danger on every play. But I hate having to alter my game because of these rules changes."
Michael Felder: As far as safety goes I don't think that the rules changes in this instance are going to do much from a football standpoint. This isn't the wedge rule that helped eliminate those crippling walls of mass set out to abuse people. But, as Aaron stated we should, in theory at least, see less kickoffs returned. Especially when you throw in the ball being moved out to the 25 yardline.
So with safety in mind and the Barron quote it all goes back to the execution of the game; keeping heads up, seeing what you hit in an effort to eliminate the devastating neck injuries that we've seen at both the NFL and collegiate levels. Helmet technology is improving but in the end they are still trying to stop a brain, sitting in fluid, from smacking the skull when the skull is stopped abruptly.
With regards to strategy go ahead and call me a kook because if I'm the head coach or special teams coordinator I'm not going for the touchback. The 25 yardline is five more yards than I want to give up for free and moving the kickoff to the 35 is five less yards my guys have to run. We're looking at a 65 yard coverage zone with a five yard head start. A 40 yard sky kick with a fair catch gets you to that same 25. A longer sky kick, fielded by a fullback or a linebacker in the game to block gets you behind the 25, opens up the avenue for a fumble and/or a big hit if the ball is not fair caught.
Perhaps I'm crazy but I'd take pleasure if giving my coverage team a chance with those odds.
Kevin McGuire: I don't think there is any question that if a change can be made in an effort to provide more safety or caution for the student athletes playing the game, then it should be made. And with that clearly being the case here, I'm all for it. That said, I am interested to see how teams adapt to the rules, and like Felder I'm not ready to say that this will effectively kill off the kickoff aspect of the game. Sure, touchbacks going to the 25-yard line will give us an increase in touchbacks but you can't tell me there are going to be kick return specialists out there who will be told not to make a return.
From a game play perspective, if you are down by one score and need good field position late in the game, or have a guy capable of going the distance, then why would you not let him loose and hope he can do some damage. Is it a risk? Of course, but you recruit players with those capabilities for a reason. If anything, the new rules will make these big returns even more special.
But I'll echo the sentiment that rule changes are just that. In order to really improve player safety it still falls back on technique, which should be in the hands of the coaches. There is no real way to enforce that though.
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