NCAA Proposes New Football Rules to Enhance Player Safety

The NCAA is proposing rule changes to reduce the chances of injuries on kickoffs like the one that paralyzed Rutgers's Eric LeGrande.

The NCAA has announced new rule proposals to make the game safer for players, and unlike the $2000 stipend, I can't imagine these rules being overruled by the membership. The five proposals are largely concerning special teams, and they are as follows:

  • Kickoffs and touchbacks: Kickoffs go from the 35-yard line instead of the 30, mimicking the rule change the NFL has made. Touchbacks would come out to the 25-yard line instead of the 20 to encourage receiving teams to take more touchbacks. Players on the kicking team must be within five yards of the 35-yard line when kicked to reduce the running start they get. The NCAA's data shows that injuries are more common on kickoffs than any other aspect of the game, so these rules are intended to cut back on those injuries.
  • Helmets coming off: If a player's helmet comes off and it's not because of an opponent ripping it off, it works like an injury. The player must not participate in the rest of the play and has to come off the field for at least one play. The proposal doesn't say so, but I'll bet this is as much about getting players to wear their helmets properly as it is trying to keep them from coming off during a play.
  • Blocking below the waist: Blocking below the waist would be, with few exceptions, impermissible for anyone but stationary offensive players who are in the tackle box when the ball is snapped. Under the current rules, it is possible to block below the waist anytime "the opposing player is likely to be prepared for this contact". That broad language includes on special teams.
  • Shield blocking on punts: The NCAA is concerned about players who attempt to jump over the back defenders in the shield punt formation. Therefore, rules about jumping them become identical to those about jumping during place kicks: you can jump straight up in front of but not over top of the blockers.
  • Kick returner safety: This proposal is vaguely worded, but it sounds like a return of the old halo rule.

Football player safety has never been more in the spotlight, especially with hundreds of former players suing the NFL over head trauma. As a matter of fact, player safety should be a central concern. Rules should adapt and change as we come to know more about the wear and tear that the game puts on players' bodies.

In college football, it's especially appropriate to try to reduce head trauma. These players are enrolled at institutions of higher learning with many on scholarship to be there. They are called student-athletes. Protecting players' brains seems like it should fit right in with the core missions of the universities themselves, no?

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