What happens when player safety and coaching strategy clash? Coaches grumble, albeit softly.
The idea behind one of the NCAA’s most controversial rule changes for 2018 — awarding a touchback on any kickoff that’s fair-caught inside the 25-yard line — is to make the game safer. What football coach wouldn’t want that?
But Stanford’s coach doesn’t necessarily like it.
“I don’t mind saying I’m not the biggest fan of the rule,” Shaw said. “I understand and appreciate the purpose and the intent behind it. Anything that is in an effort to make the game safer, I understand and to a certain degree applaud.
“(But) field position is the basis of this game. To fair-catch a ball and automatically move the ball up is difficult for me to take. We probably won’t take advantage of that.”
Of the five Pac-12 coaches interviewed, only one, Washington’s Chris Petersen, is in favor of the change and even he thinks there’s more to come.
The NCAA did not release injury data when it announced its change. The organization did point out the obvious, noting that “fewer injuries occur during kickoffs that result in touchbacks than on kickoffs that are returned.”
“When they do studies, and it’s a higher percentage chance for injury on a certain play, we need to take a hard look at that and figure out how to help that situation,” Petersen said. “I think they have, and I think this is the first step towards it.
“It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out. It’s all about making this game safer for the kids. If that’s one of the plays that’s going to help us, it’s a good rule.”
I don’t know how this will play out, but I suspect Petersen’s on the right track to suggest this is but the early stage of an evolutionary development. Similar to things like the way the targeting rule has been enforced, I don’t think we’ve reached the final version of what kickoffs will look like. One thing’s for sure, though — those concussion lawsuits aren’t going away any time soon.