Player safety has been a major point of emphasis at all levels of football in recent years. That trend will be noticeable with several changes coming to college football games this fall.

Here are a few of the new rules the NCAA has implemented to help protect players on the field.


NCAA data shows that injuries occur more often during special teams plays than during other phases of the game. So the NCAA’s Playing Rules Oversight Panel (PROP) implemented several proposals designed to diminish big hits during kick returns.

  • Kickoffs will be moved up from the 35-yard line to the 30. This should increase the number of touchbacks and minimize the number of full-speed special teams hits on ball carriers.
  • Touchbacks will be moved up from the 20- to the 25-yard line on kickoffs. However, in a somewhat confusing twist, this rule does not apply to punts or fumbles that go out of the end zone -- those will still come back out to the 20.
  • Ten players on the kicking team must line up inside the 30-yard line. This will prevent them from having as much of a running start when the ball is kicked and hopefully keep the force of their contact with the ball carrier down.
  • On onside kicks, the receiving team will now be allowed to signal for a fair catch even if the ball was driven into the ground and bounced into the air. Under the old rule, they could only call for a fair catch if the ball went directly into the air off the tee.
  • Players may no longer try to leap over the top of blockers in order to block a punt.
  • The “halo rule” is back. Kicking team players may no longer come within 18 inches of a punt returner until the ball has been caught.


According to the NCAA, helmets came off an average of twice per game -- almost 200 times per season. As such, several rules implemented this year are aimed at protecting players who have lost helmets during the course of play.

  • If a player loses his helmet, it will be treated the same as an injury and he must sit out the next play. This rule does not apply if the helmet came off as the result of a penalty, such as a face mask. This rule will hopefully encourage players to fully buckle their chinstraps to keep their helmets on more securely.
  • If a ball carrier loses his helmet, the play will be blown dead immediately.
  • If a player other than the ball carrier loses his helmet, he must immediately leave the play. In other words, he is not supposed to tackle, block, run his route, etc. Although this does raise a big question of what happens if an offensive lineman loses his helmet—is he supposed to just fall down and let his quarterback get blindsided?
  • If a ball carrier’s helmet comes off with less than one minute left in either half, there will be a 10-second runoff. A coach can elect to use a timeout and keep the 10 seconds on the clock.


Finally, the NCAA looked at preventing low blocks on unsuspecting defenders.

  • Offensive players who are within the tackle box and are not in motion at the snap are allowed to block below the waist. All other players, with a few exceptions such as straight ahead blocks, are prohibited from blocking below the waist. This is designed to prevent such practices as wide receivers just diving at a cornerback’s knees to take him out of the play.

If past history is any indication, expect to see referees calling these new rules very strictly in the first few weeks of the season. So now you can be prepared when the guy in the seat next to you is screaming about the refs bringing the other team’s kickoff touchback out to the 25 when they put your punt touchback at the 20.

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