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NCAA Proposes Rule Change to Increase Number of Touchbacks on Kickoffs

Under the proposal, fair catches on kickoffs would result in a touchback.

The NCAA’s Football Rules Committee has proposed a rule change that could dramatically increase the number of touchbacks on kickoffs, the NCAA announced Friday

Under the proposal, a successful fair catch made inside the receiving team’s own 25-yard line would result in a touchback and the ball would be placed at the 25. 

“The committee made the proposal to address player safety on the kickoff and to address tactics that attempt to pin the receiving team close to its goal line,” the NCAA said. 

The rule change must be approved by an oversight panel on April 13. 

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The kickoff is one of the most dangerous plays in football, as it entails two groups of players running at each other at full speed. Southern receiver Devon Gales was paralyzed on a kickoff against Georgia in 2015, as was Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand in 2010. 

The NCAA and NFL have made several rule changes in recent years to limit the number of kick returns. First, the NFL moved the kickoff from the 30-yard line to the 35 in 2011. The NCAA followed suit in 2012 while also moving the touchback on kickoffs from the 20-yard line to the 25. The NFL moved the touchback to the 25-yard line in 2016. 

Moving the touchback up incentivized receiving teams to take a knee more often when the kickoff traveled into the end zone. Some kicking teams, though, were unhappy with the improved field position and decided they’d rather hit high arcing kicks that landed near the goal line, giving the coverage team more time to get downfield and pin the receiving team deep. This proposed rule change would eliminate that strategy and result in more touchbacks.