CHICAGO — In attempt to increase player safety, the NCAA has approved rules changes that will move both the kickoff and touchback lines up five yards for the 2012 college football season.
“We moved it because we found that the kickoff plays, the situation for a kickoff, is our number-one play scenario that lends itself to injury,” Big Ten Coordinator of Officials Bill Carollo said Thursday at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.
This fall, the kickoff line will be moved up from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line. This move is intended to limit players on the kickoff team from taking a full running start and should increase the number of touchbacks.
“Of course, on the other side of that, you’ve got the guys who have a dynamic kick returner. ‘Does it affect them? It does,’” Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill said in February. “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.”
Touchbacks on free kicks will move up five yards this season and be placed at the 25-yard line. However, touchbacks on plays such as punts and fumbles that go out of the end zone are exempt from the rule change and will still be placed at the 20-yard line.
The Gophers ranked fifth in the Big Ten last season in kickoff returns with a 23.4-yard average. These rules changes will likely cut down on that average across conference.
Minnesota ranked first in kick coverage in the Big Ten last season with a 44.9-yard net average, but the platoon system of Chris Hawthorne and Jordan Wettstein recorded only eight touchbacks total. With the five-yard increase on kickoffs, those touchback numbers should see a jump this season.
Also effective this season, a player now has to sit out a play if he loses his helmet during play if it’s not the result of a penalty, like a facemask. If a player continues play without a helmet, he will be penalized.
Carollo said the Big Ten once had a game in which more than 25 helmets came off. “So we’ve monitored that,” he said Thursday. “We’ve looked at what we should do about it.”
Kill said in February that he’s not sold on the new helmet policy.
“Having a guy go out for a play — is that the answer for having a helmet pop off? They’re still going to pop off. To me, you need to figure out why those helmets are popping off.”
The last new rule for 2012 prohibits special teams players from leaping over the wall created by the punt protectors — a change Carollo also attributed to safety concerns. Should a player break this rule, he will be flagged for a personal foul.