The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight committee on Friday approved a rule that allows any kickoff that lands inside the 25-yard line to be a touchback if the returner signals for a fair catch. Any touchback would take the ball to a team’s 25-yard line for the start of the possession.
The decision was made to cut down on injuries.
On some level, this is a big deal, as savvy kickoff specialists had become better and better at placing high, tumbling kickoffs at the opponents’ 5- or 10-yard line, forcing returners to try to make the best of the returns.
Returners could of course always signal for a fair catch — that’s always an option before the ball hits the ground — but the ball would have been spotted at the yardage-line where the ball was caught. There’s not much incentive for doing that.
Now, with the fair catch heading out to the 25, there will be.
But it may create some confusion, too, for returners. Some kicks fielded at, say, the 5, are perfect opportunities for returns. A returner will have to make a split-second decision on whether to return that kickoff or signal for a fair catch — just like he does on punts. A guy can’t start running and then decide he wants the touchback. Right?
Squib kicks make that detail interesting.
When you’re in the end zone, you can catch a squib, run around like a fool, kneel and still get the touchback. Will that kind of latitude still be cool if you field the ball at the 7?
The rule seems fairly clear: It has to be a fair catch. Which means: More squibs? Perhaps. And if there are more of those, is the sport any safer?