The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel announced on Friday that it approved a plan to alter college football’s kickoff rules, though not everyone is happy about it.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, it turns out, isn’t a big fan.
“I would have liked to have seen a different solution,” Saban said in a press conference on Saturday. “I understand the reason. I respect the reason, which is player safety.”
The rule change now allows players to fair catch any kickoff inside the 25-yard line, and the ball will then be placed at the 25 like a touchback. If a player catches a kickoff in the end zone and downs the ball, the offense will also start at the 25. Previously, a fair catch anywhere on the field resulted in the offense taking possession at the spot of the fair catch.
The reason for the change is, like Saban said, player safety. The NCAA wants to reduce the number of kickoff returns to limit what has become one of the most dangerous plays in all of football.
Saban’s ideal rule change, though, would have simply moved kickoffs up another five yards. The change the NCAA made, he said, takes all of the strategy out of the play.
“I guess I’ve been around long enough to remember when we use to kick off from the 40-yard line,” Saban said. “There were too many touchbacks, so we moved it back to the 35. So, for us old timers, I thought it would be an easier solution to just move it back up to the 40-yard line because you’d get more touchbacks but you could still sky kick, onside kick, which you can still do some of those things.
“But you sky kick trying to give someone bad field position and they can fair catch the ball on the 15-yard line and get it on the 25. That takes some of the strategy out of the game, to me, with the result that you have. You would have gotten the same result if you had just moved it up five yards because almost everybody in college football would have kicked nothing but touchbacks. You still would have had all the strategies you could have used in other circumstances.”
The NCAA also approved several other rule changes for the 2018 season. Blocks below the waist are now banned by any player more than five yards down the field. The play clock will immediately start at 40 seconds for all point-after attempts and for possessions starting after kickoffs. A 10-second runoff was approved on replay reviews inside of one minute, if a play is overturned and the new ruling would have caused the clock to keep running.
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