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A drastic change is coming to college football in 2018 as player safety continues to be a top priority.
According to Greg Johnson of NCAA.com, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel has approved a new rule that will allow players to call for a fair catch anywhere inside the 25-yard line on kickoffs and have it result in a touchback, with the football being placed at the 25-yard line.
Previously, touchbacks only occurred when the kickoff was fielded in the end zone.
This new rule will help prevent teams from trying to pin opponents deep in their own territory by skying the kickoff and not giving them much of a chance at a return. In the past, any fair catch in the field of play would result in the ball being placed at the spot where it was fielded.
Increasing the ability to call for fair catches is the latest of several rule changes in recent years. Back in 2012, the NCAA moved kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35 and made it so the football would be placed at the 25-yard line, rather than at the 20, on touchbacks.
As much as a game can be changed on special teams, kickoffs are viewed as the most violent play in football. Eleven players from both sides start from opposite sides of the field and go head-to-head, frequently resulting in collisions.
The most notable injury on a kickoff happened to former Rutgers Scarlet Knight Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed in a freak accident in 2010.
Rules have been tweaked in recent years to try to encourage touchbacks. And it’s not just college football that’s affected—the NFL has eliminated kickoffs from the Pro Bowl.
The new fair catch rule is the most drastic change that will go into effect next season, but it’s not the only one. Offensive players will not be allowed to block below the waist more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage, nobody other than interior linemen will be allowed to block below the waist unless it’s from the front and a 10-second runoff will occur when instant replay overturns a call on the field inside of the final minute of a half on a play in which the clock would not have been stopped.
The full list of rule changes can be viewed on the NCAA’s official website.