Last month, the NCAA released an article with a list of proposed changes to the world of college football. This is customary for the offseason and it is far from a given that all of these become actual changes by the start of the new year. However, it is the football offseason and if nothing else, it’s another talking point for the long months before fall camp begins in August, so here we are. The following contains some discussion points and thoughts about the positives and negatives of the changes if they were to be implemented.
This current proposal is nothing compared to the fair-catch rule that was put into effect during the 2018 season. Injuries decreased last year so that’s likely here to stay. Now, there are further proposal to make kickoffs safer. More specifically, this refers to the eliminating two-man wedge blocks.
Wedge blocks have been a staple of the kickoff play for as long as most can remember, but getting rid of them evens the playing field a bit. The idea is one-on-one blockers will make things safer.
The Bottom Line
It’s clear the rules committee wants to transfer what special teams returns look like and this is the latest example of that. The internet has numerous articles on how to make kickoffs safer and this usually isn’t one of the ideas but it’s far from the worst idea. This seems like something that is a small change and will probably have a small result, if any at all. Still, it’s worth a try and likely won’t be the last change you’ll see with kickoffs in the name of player safety.
Obviously this one is being proposed for one reason and one reason only; last year’s game featuring LSU vs Texas A&M which lasted seven overtimes. Anyway, so the current rule has says starting with the third overtime, teams have to go for two-point conversions. The new rule proposal calls for teams only going for two-point conversions beginning with the fifth overtime. The thought is this will limit the number of plays.
The Bottom Line
This one seems to reactionary based on just one game, a very rare one at that. The only other game I can recall that came anywhere close to that was Boise State and Nevada in 2007, which went to four overtimes. College football overtime rules are great, why change them? Why are people worried about limiting plays once a game has probably reached close to 100 players by each team by the time the 5th OT rolls around? Solely running two-point conversion plays is like college basketball playing P-I-G at the 5th OT (because H-O-R-S-E would not limit the number of plays obviously).
Players will no longer be able to blind-side block a player with the use of “forcible contact”. It would be assumed that forcible contact means running full-speed into an unsuspecting player. This of course will alter many kickoff and punt return blocking techniques, which is likely the type of play used as the driving force behind the rule. However, it could also come into play on other open field plays like an interception return, or even a simple open field run play where a receiver or other play comes from the side to make a big block on a player who isn’t looking.
The Bottom Line
Noticing a trend here? Again, this is another player safety related rule change proposal. When do a large number of injuries occur, especially head related injuries? When players are running full speed and one hits the other who isn’t prepared or expecting it. These type of blocks look great on highlight tapes and replays, but can be extremely dangerous. Those of us who grew up in the video game era love the hit-stick type of tackling and blocking, but in today’s game of safety-focused football, it won’t fly. At the end of the day, this change isn’t surprising and will end up as a positive. On the other hand, it would not be surprising if this becomes a very inconsistent and controversial penalty call on big plays if it were to go into effect.
This is the big one. Also, it would be the second tweak to the targeting rule since it was implemented (Remember the first year when the review could overturn the ejection but no the 15-yard penalty? How dumb). Now, the new potential changes are two-fold. First, there is a strong punishment for repeat offenders. If a player commits a second targeting penalty in the same season, the player will be suspended for the next full game in addition to the rest of the game in which the penalty occurred.
Also, there will be changes to how the call is made during the instant replay confirmation. All on the field targeting calls will still be reviewed by replay, but now there are more aspects of the play in order for the play to be considered targeting. Thus, the replay will either confirm (if all aspects of targeting are present) or overturned (if at least one aspect is not present), so there will be no more of “the ruling on the field stands”. This will hopefully get rid of obvious incidental helmet-to-helmet contact or similar instances.
The Bottom Line
Player safety should always be at the forefront of any potential improvements and rule changes. Earlier this year, some writer played around with the idea of a minor and major targeting penalty, similar to the flagrant 1 and 2 in the NBA, which made sense. These proposals when looked at together, also present a nice adjustment to the game’s most controversial rule. While the repeat offender aspect makes targeting stricter, the higher standards for confirming the call via replay allow for less plays actually being called targeting. This one actually looks like a win.
All in all, the rule changes overall have the potential to make more of a positive impact than a negative one. Really, on paper most will either make a positive change to the game (safety and health wise) or else probably won’t matter much. As stated above, the blind-side block rule could very well turn into a controversial call as it often happens spontaneously during a big play and could really impact an explosive play or the outcome of the game. Certainly something to watch out for. Also, expect that this isn’t the end of the safety and health focused rule change proposals in the years to come.