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Safety Is Key in Proposed NCAA Rules Changes

Safety Is Key in Proposed NCAA Rules Changes

The NCAA is considering five significant rules changes to be instituted for the 2012 college football season. The Playing Rules Oversight Panel meets Tuesday, February 21st, to discuss and eventually determine whether or not the proposed changes will be put into effect.

The NCAA Rules Committee, a 13-member board comprised of coaches and athletic directors representing all Divisions, met just a few weeks ago to propose the changes. Contrary to popular belief, the proposed changes are written by coaches and officials, not by the NCAA. Once the committee discusses any rules changes, a proposal is sent to all NCAA members as well as to all conference officiating crews.

Rules changes are introduced on a two-year cycle, whereby the change will go into effect in the second year. This allows coaching staffs to introduce the rule in the first year and coach their players on the new rule which would be in effect the second year.

Any rules changes involving player safety can bypass the two-year transition period and become effective immediately. All five of the proposed changes for 2012 concern player safety and, if affirmed, would become part of the rule book this coming season.

Here is a rundown of the current proposed rules changes for 2012.

Kickoff and touchback starting lines moved

Teams would kickoff from the 35-yard line instead of the 30-yard line. Kick coverage teams must be within five yards of the 35-yard line at the time of the kick. Coverage players are thus prevented from building up speed and momentum prior to the kick. Kicks not returned out of the end zone will be spotted on the 25-yard line instead of the 20. The Rules Committee is trying to encourage the touchback due to a study showing that more injuries occur on the kickoff than any other phase of the game.

Loss of helmet during play

Studies showed that players would lose their helmet an average of two times per game. In the essence of safety, any loss of helmet during a play will be treated like an injury. The player losing his helmet cannot participate in the next play. Also, once a player loses his helmet during a play, he must not continue to participate in that play. For those thinking that losing the helmet can stop the clock in crucial situations, injury timeout rules already protect against such plays as a means to stop the clock.

Blocking below the waist

Rules regarding blocking below the waist will be clarified to allow all players aligned in the tackle box at the snap (and not in motion) to block below the waist without restriction. All other players may not block below the waist, however, there are a few exceptions.

Shield blocking on punts

More and more teams are utilizing the “Shield” punt protection where three blockers are aligned shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the punter in attempt to prevent a blocked punt. Defenders countered by leaping over the blockers. Studies showed that many of these defenders would flip and land on their heads on the field. To protect these players, the new rule will be similar to that used on place kicks. Players cannot leap over a blocker, however, they can leap straight up in the air or in between two blockers.

Additional protection for kick returners

Kick returners will be provided additional protection when fielding a kick. Returners must complete the catch before contact can be made by the kicking team. The rule will be subject to official interpretation, but the rule change was proposed to make sure a coverage player does not have a “free shot” at an unprotected punt or kick returner.

It appears as though each of these proposed changes will be approved by the Oversight Panel and be instituted for the forthcoming season. Concerning issues of safety, the NCAA, the Rules Committee, and the Oversight Panel are normally in agreement and affirm any proposed changes.

For more on the rules changes and the Oversight Panel’s results from the February 21st meeting, visit http://www.ncaa.org.