New NCAA rule turns any fair catch inside the 25-yard line on a kickoff into a touchback

Last month, the NCAA Football Rules Committee proposed a significant tweak to kickoffs, calling for any fair catch made between the goal line and the 25-yard line to be treated as a touchback. 

On Friday, the NCAA's Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved that suggestion -- along with other changes. 

The NCAA's lone message in the rule change is player safety, which has been an overriding issue for football at every level in recent years. The association's goal is to increase the number of touchbacks, which start an offense at the 25-yard line, while reducing the number of potential hits a returner receives.

By association, it should theoretically reduce the number of sky-high pop-up kickoffs designed to either put a receiving team in poor field position or create frantic, live-ball situations. Keep in mind, too, this is in addition to recent rule changes to kickoffs. Before the 2012 season, kickoffs were moved from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line and touchbacks were moved up five yards to the 25-yard line. 

Whether it will actually make the game safer ... who knows? There are still players running a dead heat down the field. There will still be collisions. But with so many incentives to start on a touchback, it's well within reason to wonder if football will have kickoffs at all within the next decade. 

Other rule changes approved by the committee include ...

  • Offensive players will not be allowed to block below the waist when the block occurs more than 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. 
  • Play clocks will be set at 40 seconds after touchdowns and following kickoffs to expedite succeeding plays.
  • A 10-second runoff has been added for when instant replay overturns a ruling on the field inside of one minute in either half, and the correct ruling would not have stopped the game clock.
  • Continued experimental collaborative decision-making model on instant replays. 
  • Leaping rules on field goals and extra points will mirror those on punting plays. 
  • Penalty enforcement on successful field goals will mirror extra points (i.e. the option to be enforced on ensuing kickoff). 
CBS Sports Writer

Ben Kercheval joined CBS Sports in 2016 and has been covering college football since 2010. Before CBS, Ben worked at Bleacher Report, UPROXX Sports and NBC Sports. As a long-suffering North Texas graduate,... Full Bio

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