NCAA rules proposals focus on safety

Friday, January 1, 1904

photo Photo by Mark Gilliland/Chattanooga Times Free Press UTC football coach Russ Huesman
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Some important new rules could be in place when the 2012 college football season kicks off in September.

The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel will meet today via conference call to determine whether to approve the Football Rules Committee's proposals, which include forcing a player to sit out one play if his helmet comes off and moving the kickoff up 5 yards to the 35-yard line.

In addition, touchbacks would result in the ensuing drive starting at the 25 instead of the 20.

Even though it seems that giving the receiving team an extra 5 yards would penalize a team with a strong-legged kicker, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman said he supported the change.

"The 25 is fine," Huesman said. "If you hold them to the 25 or in, you're fine. I think the 25 is a fair deal."

Huesman has said often that kickoffs are the most dangerous plays in every game and anything that can be done to protect the players is OK by him. In fact, he would support a rule banning kickoffs, though he knows that's not likely to happen.

"I've been saying forever that the kickoff is an injury waiting to happen," he said. "There are people that practice live kickoffs and I never do it. Why take a chance with those high-speed collisions?"

Relating to the proposed movement of the kickoff is a change to the running start that the other 10 players on the kickoff coverage team use. The rules committee proposed that the kickoff team be limited to a 5-yard running start to cut down on the powerful collisions that routinely occur on kickoffs.

The Citadel coach Kevin Higgins is in his second year on the rules committee. He said the committee discussed whether moving the kickoff line up would encourage more teams to try a sky kick, lofting the ball like a punt so the coverage team can get down the field to make a tackle inside the 20, which certainly could add to the number of hard collisions.

Higgins said that was a concern and something the committee would monitor.

Earlier this month, the National Federation of High School Associations approved a rule that forced players to sit out a play if their helmet comes off during live play. The NCAA wants to establish the same rule, adding that a player who loses his helmet cannot continue to participate in that play.

The NCAA sent out a survey to coaches regarding proposed rule changes and Huesman said he was concerned about players losing their helmets but against forcing a player to miss a play.

Higgins said too many helmets are winding up on the field without being forced off by other players. According to the NCAA's data collection, during the 2011 season helmets came off more than twice a game.

"I think a lot of people thought that helmets were coming off because of [long] hair as much as anything, but there were so many guys that had short to average hair and their helmets off as well," Higgins said. "The bottom line is that players nowadays are not putting enough air in their helmets and oftentimes the chin strap is not the proper one or is not buckled the way it should be."

Among the other proposed rule changes is a restriction on how a player can attempt to block a punt against a shield blocking scheme. In the past a player could try to leap over the players in the shield, but the proposed change would limit him to jumping up and down or between the blockers.

This rule is significant for The Citadel because its 6-foot-5 wide receiver Domonic Jones set a Football Championship Subdivision record with five blocked punts last season, sometimes by leaping over the blockers.

"That will have a little bit of an impact on blocked punts," Higgins said, adding that the rule was proposed to protect the leaping player from being undercut and landing awkwardly.

There is a two-year cycle for rules changes, meaning rules can be changed every other year. This in a non-rules change year, but because the proposed changes have to do with player safety new rules can be implemented for 2012.

Contact John Frierson at or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at