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NFL Changes Kickoffs Again, Copying College Fair Catch Rule



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Despite aggressive pushback from special teams coaches and players, commissioner Roger Goodell got enough votes from NFL owners to approve a rule change that places the ball at the 25-yard line following fair catches on kickoffs. The fair catch has to be made inside the 25-yard line on kickoffs in order for the ball to be placed at the 25.

That rule is in place at the college level and the stated reason for the proposed change was increasing player safety given the number of injuries that happen on kickoffs. The rule change was approved for the 2023 season only, so it’s on a one-year trial.

“The kickoff play for us has been a play that has had a lot of changes for us over the years, all really driven by health and safety,” Rich McKay, chairman of the NFL’s competition committee, told NFL Network’s Judy Battista. “The concussion rate on the play has gone up. It’s gone up because the ball is being returned more by kicks that are being hung inside the 5-yard line. College made this rule change in maybe 2018 or 2019. We looked at their data and said, you know what, this is the right thing to do now.”

McKay and NFL executive Jeff Miller said on Tuesday that their modeling says the kickoff return rate will decrease from 38% to 31% and the concussion rate will drop 15% due to the approved proposal.

“We needed to do something,” McKay added. “We just can’t sit there and ignore that data.”

The NFL delayed a vote on a proposed rule change involving fair catches on kickoffs Monday, but came back to it on Tuesday and the change was approved by team owners.

“Special teams coaches and players all opposed this rule but Roger Goodell wouldn’t let it go,” Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network said on the Pat McAfee Show.

McAfee, a former punter for the Indianapolis Colts, blasted the proposal when it was initially floated on Monday. He said on his program “nobody really likes” the rule. Many fans agree with McAfee, questioning what’s the point of even having kickoffs anymore.

“It’s the most amateur, bush-league-looking bull**** I have seen in a long time when it comes to the NFL,” McAfee said.

Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated claimed that Goodell lobbied owners to pass the kickoff touchback rule, after not having enough votes on Monday.

“You know we have different viewpoints in the league, but the data is very clear,” Goodell said on the special teams coaches opposing the rule. … “There will be a lot of work that needs to be done.”

Goodell said they’ll study the effects of the new kickoff rule in its trial year.

Full text of the rule:

“After a fair catch is made, or is awarded as the result of fair-catch interference, the receiving team has the option of putting the ball in play by either a:

“a). fair-catch kick (drop kick or placekick without a tee) from the spot of the catch (or the succeeding spot after enforcement of any applicable penalties or rule) (3-10 and 11-4-3), or

“(b). snap from the spot of the catch (or the succeeding spot after enforcement of any applicable penalties), unless a player on the receiving team makes a fair catch of a free kick behind the receiving team’s 25-yard line, in which case the ball will be put in play at the receiving team’s 25-yard line.

“Note: A receiver may make or be awarded a fair catch in his end zone. If there is fair-catch interference or illegal contact with the receiver after he has made a fair catch.”


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