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College Football Analysis: Why the New NCAA Touchback Rule is Awful

Okay, so  teams are now kicking from the 35 yard line. The NFL instituted that rule last year, so I guess it’s not the end of the world that college followed suit. Plus, college kickers don’t kick it as far as NFL kickers anyway, so the five yards probably won’t pave the way for the ball to get boomed out of the end zone on a regular basis.

But as it turns out, it doesn’t really matter if it gets kicked out of the back or if it just goes two yards in to the end zone…everyone is going to take the touchback. You know why? Because the ball comes out to the 25-yard line!

If you receive a touchback in college football, you now take over possession with a quarter of the 100-yard field already accounted for. That’s positively un-American, if you ask me. A touchback comes out to the 20-yard line. Period. That’s the way that football is played. It actually makes the return man want to come out of the end zone. With the added five yards, no one wants to take the risk. Players will take a knee and then take the ball further up, no questions asked.

What if the they decided to make offsides a 7-yard penalty, or decided that touchdowns were worth five points. That’s the sort of stuff we’re dealing with here. It changes how the game is played, and it goes against the nature of the game. Let’s just mess with all the major sports. In hockey, if you get an offsides penalty, your goalie has to play without a stick. In basketball, if you take more than eight seconds to get the ball across midcourt you have to play with your pants around your ankles. In baseball, if you hit a pop up on the infield, you get a run added to your score.

It doesn’t make sense. You don’t just take what is an integral part of the game and change it because you want to. I’m all in favor of sports evolving shouldn’t mean taking kickoffs out of college football because your want to limit “collisions,” despite the fact that an entire game is a collision. That’s what happens on every snap. If you want to limit “collisions,” make them play with flags. Don’t just arbitrarily change a rule because you want positive PR.

And that’s what it comes down to. With the NFL doing it’s whole player safety shtick (and then bartering for two more regular season games…) the college game has to follow suit to some extent, so this is its brilliant solution.

A kickoff return has the potential to swing a football game. Games change because someone scores a touchdown to steal momentum (see: Desmond Howard). Now? That’s off the table. They might as well just do away with the kickoff all together if they’re going to screw up the incentive people have for doing it in the first place.

There are so many players on college teams, and so much talent (especially on the top level ones), that players aren’t going to risk taking the ball out of the end zone and getting taken down before the 25-yard line. That would mean they messed up, and a screw up can mean a spot on the bench with someone else getting back in the  game. Guys will play it safe, get their team the solid field position and move on with their lives.

Or, how about from this angle – if the kickoff continues to be whittled down into nothing, a whole bunch of players will never see the field in the first place. Twenty-two guys play on kickoffs/kick returns, and many of them don’t see any real time on offense or defense. They’re special teams players, and that’s how they keep their scholarship – by contributing in a way that others don’t. Well kiss that goodbye.

Football is violent. Kickoffs are violent. The point of the game is tackle your opponent and bring him to the ground. It’s what everyone signed up for. There’s no reason to change the fabric of the game because you think it’s making a difference, when it’s actually not.

Oh, and for the record, check out this study. Football players actually live longer than baseball players.

Stop messing with the game.

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