On Friday, the NCAA announced that the Playing Rules Oversight Panel had approved a major change to kickoffs in 2018.
Kickoffs can now be fair caught anywhere between the 25 yard-line and the goal line, and it will be treated like a touchback. The receiving team then gets the ball at the 25 yard-line. Prior to the rule change, the receiving team would get the football where the player would fair catch it.
This will surely change the way teams approach kickoffs this season, and it’s all in the name of player safety.
On Saturday, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart became the first SEC head coach to react to the new rule.
“It could minimize the value of a good kicker,” Smart said, via 247Sports.com. “I wouldn’t disagree with that. If your kicker kicks a 4.4 hang to the 5-yard line, that’s a huge weapon because you couldn’t fair catch it. But you also have to assume that guy catching the ball knew what that hang was. I would argue the average kick returner doesn’t know what the hang of the kick was. He’s going to have to figure out can I catch this ball and know where this coverage team is on me. That comes in repetition. We started telling our guys what the hang time is every time so he can say, hey, I know if it’s 4.3 or higher, I probably need to fair catch this. But it could take the weapon away. But we never told Rodrigo to kick it high and short. We told him to kick it out of the end zone. That’s what we want him to do.”
Smart, however, is all about amending rules in the name of player safety.
As far as the rule, if they say it’s safer, I’m obviously in support of safety,” Smart said. “I think anything you can do to make players safer, it’s a wise decision. How it will be implemented and how you’ll use it, that will be interesting because there’s no kid that’s ever sat back there on a kickoff and waved fair catch on the 1-yard line. He’s going to have make that decision now.”
It will certainly be interesting to see the effect of the this new rule in 2018.