The kickoff is on the way out in the sport of football, and the NCAA has just taken the biggest step yet toward eliminating the play that has begun every game in the sport’s existence.
The NCAA announced today that on all kickoffs in college football, the receiving team will have the option to fair catch the ball anywhere inside the 25-yard line and have the play count as a touchback.
The NCAA was clear about the reasons for the rule change: Players get hurt on kickoff returns, and fewer returns will result in fewer injuries.
“The Football Rules Committee made the proposal to continue efforts to increase the number of touchbacks during kickoffs since fewer injuries occur during kickoffs that result in touchbacks than on kickoffs that are returned,” the NCAA said.
This rule will result in fewer kickoff returns, and once fans become accustomed to fewer kickoff returns, they’ll become accustomed to the idea of getting rid of the kickoff entirely. The kickoff is going away.
The only question is what will become of onside kicks, which are a staple of late-game comebacks. The NFL and the NCAA will both need to consider some kind of rule change that would allow teams trailing late in games to get the ball back after they score. The upstart Alliance of American Football has announced that it will do away with kickoffs but allow teams to try to get the ball back after scoring, by running one play from their own 30-yard line, needing to gain 10 yards to keep the ball.
Whether that rule gains traction or some other replacement for the onside kick is adopted, the reality is kickoffs are going away. The NCAA took a big step in that direction today.