By LARRY VAUGHT
Look for a lot fewer kickoff returns next season.
The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved allowing the receiving team to fair catch the kick inside the 25-yard line and have it result in a touchback.
The Football Rules Committee wants to increase the number of touchbacks during kickoffs since fewer injuries occur during kickoffs that result in touchbacks than on kickoffs that are returned.
Before the 2012 season, kickoffs were moved from the 30-yard line to the 35 to increase touchbacks. The committee also changed the starting position on touchbacks that year so that the receiving team started its drive on the 25-yard line instead of the 20.
Former Kentucky return specialist Charles Walker understands the safety concerns that prompted the new kickoff rule.
“So many kickers are so good getting hang time. If you catch it at the 1-yard line and if the kick had five-second hang, you already have guys on the 10 coming for your head,” Walker said. “I see why you would do it (change the rule).
“But I think you still need the kickoff because there are so many explosive players returning kicks. Still, it’s a good rule and probably will reduce injuries.”
How hard will it be for kick returners to decide when to make a fair catch?
“There is always more than one returner back there. You trust your teammates,” Walker said. “Other returners will be there to help you. If it is a high kick that you catch at the 1, fair catch it. If it is a low, line drive kick, lay on the rubber and take it to the house.”