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Football Rules Committee to focus on player-safety issues

By Greg Johnson

The NCAA Football Rules Committee will examine ways to enhance player safety when it meets Monday through Wednesday in Indianapolis.

Topics on the agenda include targeting the head-and-neck area of defenseless players, players using the crowns of their helmets to make contact, and blocks below the waist.

“Player safety will continue to be a major point of emphasis,” said Rogers Redding, the NCAA football secretary-rules editor and national coordinator of officials. “It is the paramount of concern.”

“You can see in any number of game films that you can tackle legally and safely and never get the head and neck area involved at all,” Redding added. “It’s still good hard football, but the hits around the head and neck area are the ones we have to get out of the game.”

The committee will review and evaluate several changes made last year, including requiring players who lost their helmet (other than as the result of a foul by the opponent, such as a facemask foul) to leave the game and sit out the next play. Data from the 2012 season indicated that helmets came off about twice per game.

Another rule change allowed offensive players in the tackle box at the snap who were not in motion to block below the waist legally without restriction. All other players were restricted from blocking below the waist with a few exceptions (for example, straight-ahead blocks).

Redding said despite those modifications, people were still confused about what was considered legal.

“We are trying to please a lot of constituencies,” Redding said. “It is difficult to coach and officiate blocking below the waist. The committee will talk about how we can simplify the rule while protecting the safety of the players and retaining the integrity of the game.”

Committee members will also review new kickoff rules implemented last year that led to more than 3,000 touchbacks compared to fewer than 1,200 in 2011.

This season, kickoffs were from the 35-yard line instead of the 30-yard line. Following touchbacks, offenses started their possessions at the 25-yard line instead of the 20-yard line.

Additionally, kicking-team players were allowed only a 5-yard running start before the ball was put into play. Previously, players were allowed to take as long of a running start as they wanted.

The new kickoff rules were implemented after the committee examined 2011 data showing that injuries during kickoffs occur more often on these plays than in other phases of the game.

Committee members also are expected to discuss the balance between offense and defense.

At the Football Bowl Subdivision level in 2012, offensive records were set in average total points scored per game (29.5), total offensive yardage per game (409.2) and passing yards per game (238.3).