Look, I know what you’re thinking; “kickoffs can be some of the most exciting plays in football, why would you get rid of them?”
I agree with you. Without kickoffs moments like this would’ve never happen:
— jr smith for president 2020 (@datdudeIII) November 25, 2017
I personally don’t want to see the kickoff die, but with the way the rules are going, it might make the most sense.
In 2012 the kickoff was moved from the 30 to the 35 in hopes to increase touchbacks. The NCAA also moved the ensuing spot for a touchback up from the 20 to the 25 to give teams more incentive to take a touchback. The plan worked, as touchbacks increased 50% that next season.
The reasoning for wanting more touchbacks is that it takes away injuries. According to the NCAA Football Oversight Chair, Bob Bowlsby “The data is convincing, The [injury] frequency isn’t any higher. The severity is higher.”
A lot of the issue comes from the blocking; the kicking team is running full speed at the receiving team, who is standing relatively still trying to slow the oncoming traffic.
The problem here (and reason why I’m not the biggest fan of that rule) is that increasing touchbacks/fair catches doesn’t fix much; Nick Saban seems to agree, as he thinks the kickoffs should be moved to the 40.
“When you go back and kick the ball out of the end zone, nobody gets blocked. If a guy fair catches the ball, by the time he decides whether he’s going to fair catch or not, they would have done most of the contact. I guess I would have chosen a different way to do it.”
I don’t want to see the kickoff die, but with the direction the rule changes are trending, I think we will see the end of the kickoff within the next 10-15 years.
The new rules seem like they’d help player safety but in actuality, but Saban is right that they don’t change much; blocks will still be thrown downfield if a player calls a fair catch.
If the NCAA wants to eliminate injuries from kickoffs they need to move them further up so more kicks go through the end zone – and if they do that, it might be worthwhile to just get rid of them as a whole.
You might grit your teeth at the loss of this opportunity, but most kicks are touchbacks already anyway.
There were 7,097 kickoffs last season, and 3,165 of them (44.6%) were touchbacks. That isn’t the majority of them, but that’s a good chunk.
Now that anything fair-caught inside the 25 will spot the ball at the 25, I’d expect to see that number jump up to at least 65%. The reason for that spike is the number of teams who averaged 25+ yards per kick return; if you aren’t going to average at least 25 yards per return, then doing anything besides taking a knee and earning 25 yards on an end-zone kick is foolish.
If you look at the actual stats last year, you’d think somewhere around 25-30 teams averaged that much or better on their kick returns, right? Nope, it’s eight. Only eight teams (five of which were Forgotten 5 teams) were able to return the ball 25+ yards per return.
In addition to that, only ten teams allowed 25+ yards per return. So if only six percent of teams are returning the ball 25+ plus yards, and only eight percent of teams are giving up more than 25+ yards per return, why not fair catch most kicks?
If that didn’t convince you that teams should just fair catch all the time, maybe this will; out of those 7,097 kickoffs last year only 61 were returned for a touchdown, or 0.86% of kickoffs to be exact. 28 of those touchdowns were by teams in the top 15 for yards per kick return (a 4.9% touchdown rate); the rest of the country had a touchdown rate of 0.5%.
So before this new rule, almost half of kickoffs were already touchbacks, and less than one percent of them were returned for touchdowns, with most of those successes coming from the very best return teams. Those numbers are now going to go up and down respectively, with no real improvement in player safety since it won’t lead to an increase in balls kicked out of the end zone.
Now that you can get the ball at the 25 no matter where you fair catch the ball inside the 25, teams are likely to take advantage of this rule and fair catch anything outside of the end zone, considering how rarely kicks get returned further than that already.
Give it 5-10 years and I think the kickoff will be out of college football completely.