NCAA considering rule changes for 2012

The proposals aim to improve player safety by moving the kickoff and touchback lines and address players’ helmets popping off during play.

by Andrew Krammer

The NCAA is looking at multiple rule changes proposed by the Football Rules Committee earlier this month to improve player safety for the 2012 season.

The Playing Rules Oversight Panel discussed a handful of recommendations via conference call Tuesday and will decide whether or not to approve them in the coming week.  

Most significant among the changes are moving the kickoff and touchback lines. The committee voted to move the kickoff to the 35-yard line — it’s currently at the 30-yard line — and to require that kicking team players must be no further than five yards from the 35 at the kick, which is intended to limit the running start kicking teams have.

Although the NCAA is currently in a non-rules change year as part of the two-year cycle process, these specific changes can be proposed now because they directly impact student-athlete safety.  

“Everything is passed down from the NFL,” Gophers head football coach Jerry Kill said. “But, I think every coach in America, no matter what level, you don’t want kids injured. You want the game to be safe, but we also know it’s a physical game.”

A year ago, the National Football League announced that its kickoffs would be moved from the 30- to the 35-yard line. The NFL announced this month that concussions were cut in half in the 2011 season due in part to the change.

The league also said a significant decrease in the number of runbacks played a role in the drop in concussions.

The proposal would also move the touchback line from the 20- to the 25-yard line.

“Of course on the other side of that, you’ve got the guys who have a dynamic kick returner,” Kill said. “Does it affect them? It does, there could be less returns. But, like in the NFL, some people will take it out deeper if they’ve got that good return man.”

Kill said this wouldn’t directly affect the Gophers yet, because it’s too early to talk strategy.

“We’ll have to address it in the spring,” Kill said of the possible rule changes. “But, I’ve been through this game long enough. Rules are gonna pass, then they don’t pass or then they change them in the middle of the summer.” 

The other recommendations include a rule change to address a common problem in last year’s college football season – helmets popping off during play.

If the rule changes are approved, a player would have to sit out a play if they lost their helmet the play before if it’s not a result of a penalty, like a facemask. This rule is similar to the current rule that if a player is injured during a play – they must sit out the following play.

Kill said that he’s not sold on that policy.

“Having a guy go out for a play,” Kill said. “Is that the answer for having a helmet pop off? They’re still gonna pop off. To me, you need to figure out why those helmets are popping off.”

According to the NCAA, helmets came off more than twice a game during the 2011 season.

The remaining rule changes to be considered involve blocking below the waist, shield blocking schemes on punt plays as well as possible additional protection to the kick returner.