Kickoffs are exciting, fun and arguably the most action-packed part of the game. Players speed down the field like missiles released from F-16s in search of the return men. It’s breathtaking for us but also dangerous for the players.
Field position in the SEC is of utmost importance because of our dominant defenses. It’s just hard to put together an 80- to 90-yard drive in this conference. And coaches know that and will game plan for it.
But college coaches will now have to game plan for the new kickoff rules.
NCAA Football Rules Committee moved kickoffs to the 35-yard line instead of the 30-yard line, and touchbacks will now be brought out to the 25 instead of the 20. Also, the kickoff team cannot line up behind the 30 for a running start, either.
The goal is to cut down on the number of injuries by reducing kick returns.
“One view was the receiving team will now be a little quicker to say, ‘I’ll just take a knee and take it to the 25,’” said Steve Shaw, head of SEC officials. “But in talking to some of the special teams coaches in the spring, those that have really good kickers and good coverage will be tempted now to sky kick it and see if they can pin them in. The dynamics of how those rules come together will be intriguing to watch.”
In addition to the larger yardage change, there’s a change in onside kicks. The kickoff team must wait until the ball bounces twice before it can hit an opposing player.
Three players – Tre Mason, Andre Debose and Dennis Johnson – are likely bummed at this decision, as they might not get a chance to do as much damage in the return game this season.
We’ll just have to wait to see how coaches react to the changes and the in-game decision-making that goes along with them.
However, NFL data has shown it did reduce the number of head injuries after the league moved kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35 last year. Data also showed that touchbacks skyrocketed from 16 percent to 43.5 percent, and only 53.4 percent of kickoffs were returned last year, down from 80.1 percent in 2010.
We’ll have to wait and see what effect it will have on the college game, but it looks like we’ll have less of these: