NCAA changed their kickoff rules to make the game safer. Should the CFL follow?

A rule change in American college football has got a CFL kicker up in arms – and fans asking questions as to whether the Canadian league could adopt something similar in the future.

The NCAA announced Friday the adoption of several rule changes, including one that will see s fair catch on a kickoff received inside the 25-yard line result in a touchback next season.

The change is aimed to reduce the number of injuries, which some experts feel are inordinately high on kickoffs. In the hopes of creating fewer returns and more touchbacks, kickoffs were moved from the 30-yard line to the 35 in 2012 and the starting position after a touchback was moved up from the 20 to the 25. Since then a popular strategy has developed where teams instruct kickers to kickoff high and often toward the sideline, short of the end zone, in an effort to pin the returner inside the 25. Now those kicks can be fair caught and instead of the ball being placed at the spot of the catch, it will be placed at the 25.

The decision caught the eye – and the ire – of Calgary Stampeders punter Rob Maver, who linked to a story on the subject via ProFootbalTalk.

The NFL moved their kickoffs up from the 30 to the 35-yard line in 2011 then moved the initial line of scrimmage up from the 20 to the 25 yard-line after touchbacks in 2016, both moves which were designed to lower the number of kickoff returns in the name of player safety. The CFL, however, has left kickoffs largely unchanged over the years with the exception of not forcing a team to re-kick after a kickoff goes out of bounds starting in 2015.

The CFL requires teams to kickoff from 35-yard line but because of the larger field – and the fact that a touchback results in a single point – most kickoffs in Canada are returned.  Of the 698 kickoffs in the CFL last season, 653 of them – or 93.6 per cent – were returned. Meanwhile, in the NFL, teams returned just 39.3 percent of kickoffs last season.

Based on the reaction on social media, some fans would like to keep kickoffs in the CFL game.


While kickoffs obviously play a role in field position, there isn’t a huge disparity between the teams. The Saskatchewan Roughriders had the best kickoff cover team in the CFL last season, allowing an average of 19.6 yards per return while the worst team was the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at 23.9 yards – a difference of just 4.3 yards.

And while a long kickoff return can be exciting, there was just one kickoff returned for a touchdown all of last season (there should have been two, just ask Karen) and there were 29 kicks returned for 40 yards or more. Punt returns, by contrast, produced 13 touchdowns and 45 returns of 30 yards or more.

The CFL does not, as far as I’m aware, track injuries on offence, defence and special teams but a recent study in the NFL showed that “concussions are five times as likely to happen on kickoffs than on an average play.” Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy said that kickoffs are “by far the most dangerous play in the game.”

While the CFL game is obviously different – particularly with the wider field – there is certainly a trend away from kickoffs in football. With the CFL talking constantly about its desire to improve player safety, it would seem logical that kickoffs will be a point of focus sooner rather than later.

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.
Drew Edwards
Drew Edwards
About Drew Edwards (1570 Articles)
Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.

43 Comments on NCAA changed their kickoff rules to make the game safer. Should the CFL follow?

  1. In basketball, they eliminated jump balls on possession plays such as a held ball by both players where possession couldn’t be determined, and replaced it with the possession arrow. Some argued it was about speeding up the game, but they removed one of the plays that relied on athleticism and strategy. Now it’s just an in-bounds pass for the team the arrow favours. Boring!

    In the CFL, we already penalize for players getting downfield too soon, and we also usually have 11 blockers, with no extra blocker back with the receiver. This evens out the 11 tacklers, minus the kicker. I would like to see stricter downfield rules, rather than more touchback plays. If that happens, what’s next? Fair catch? When that day dawns, I’ll be giving up my season tickets.

    • Comment Awaiting Censorship // April 14, 2018 at 3:05 pm //

      Imaging a game where no one has to have their life shortened decades due to unnecessary concussions. As that moronski Maver said, Pathetic. Embarrassing. Laughable.

      I sincerely hope Maver leaves a game on a stretcher this season and never plays again. Players like him are the reason that other players die far too young and suffer greatly before they do.

      • Take it easy there turbo – I think you need a Snickers bar

      • True Green // April 14, 2018 at 4:42 pm //

        Lighten up CAC

      • Maver is a punter, rule changes regarding kick returns in general (punting or kickoff), are something he’s going to have a very strong opinion about because it impacts the value of a kickers job more than anyone else’s on the field. Maver’s comment does not infer that he has any disregard for player safety. In my opinion, his comments are with regard to how the rule change impacts the integrity of the game. The fact that the media highlighted his tweet above all else, who may share a similar opinion, is no reason to hope that he leave a game on a stretcher and never play again.

      • you are an ass; i hate to see anybody hurt much less leave on a stretcher!!

  2. Doug Mc Clintock // April 14, 2018 at 11:24 am //

    I have always considered the fair catch an affront to football !It looks like a joke – don’t tackle me, I have a fair catch ! If the CFL adopts this rule, they will lose a lot of fans. The guys hit harder than ever before but better blocking will help. Keeping a close eye on rough tackles will help. No helmet contact and high tackles.

    • It does make sense to have the fair catch on a kick off if it reduces injury, we wouldn’t be losing much.
      The story states that there were only 29 kicks returned for 40 yards or more last season. When you consider that there are usually around 7 Kick offs per game and there are 81 games that’s a total of 567 kick offs
      but only 29 were returned for 40 yards or more.
      We wouldn’t be losing much at all, the kickoffs are just not very exciting, the stats prove it and eliminating it doesn’t take away much from the game – seems the stats would say “fair catch” on a kick off, if it reduces injury.

  3. Edward Leslie // April 14, 2018 at 11:56 am //

    I don’t understand the article seeming to agree with the NFL. Just because the NFL does something, we should automatically copy it? No thanks!
    The CFL already changed the name “E camp” to combine. Many call the Practice Roster the “Practice Squad”. Enough of this Americanization of the CFL.
    We have a long history in Canada. But lets be a trend setter, not simply follow NFL rules and ideas.

    • Americanization? our game originated in the US.
      Our game was rugby until the 1930s when we adopted the american forward pass and line of scrimmage.
      Our best players and the majority of our players and coaches are American. We even copy all their traditions like tail gating etc
      Soccer is standardized throughout the world we don’t make our own rules!!
      It makes sense if it cuts down on injuries, ONLY 29 kicks returned for 40 yards or more last year out of 567 Kick offs!!

      • Yes and we don’t make Canadian rules for basketball or baseball either.
        Some of our “Canadian rules” are different but certainly not better – the single point doesn’t make the game more exciting, having a Canadian ratio doesn’t make the game more exciting.
        3 downs doesn’t make the CFL more exciting anymore , the Super Bowl had over 1200 yards in offense and the Grey Cup 800.
        4 downs on our Canadian size field would open up the offense.
        We have a huge lead in penalty yards, the fact that our refs call everything doesn’t make the game more exciting.

        • Certainly nothing exciting about watching an NFL game when the teams are shaking hands with a minute and a half left on the clock either Jeff. Many things can happen in the CFL with that kind of time left.

        • Tailgate YYC // April 14, 2018 at 7:48 pm //

          Jeff, you are always promoting the NFL.
          Don’t they have a web site for your banter?

      • But consider this Jeff, the top returners averaged from 21.7 to 26.8 per return. That can mean a great deal as far as field position goes.

        • Considering majority of kicks reach the goal line to the 10 yard line that means that the line of scrimmage is mainly from the 20 to 35 yard line. Hardly a great deal as far as field position goes.

          • Let’s see – NFL kicks off, it goes through the end zone 99.9% of the time and the ball is placed at the 25 – yawn… At least we have the potential for a big play.

  4. Im with Maver on this one. Leave the fair catch south of the border thanks – I like our game the way it is.

    • Paul Bomber // April 14, 2018 at 2:32 pm //

      I’m with you, Yup, though if someone could present a detailed analysis of the injury “issue” with kickoffs, I’d be open minded about looking at it.
      BUT… I just think it’s funny that of all people, it’s a kicker complaining about it (hitting, player safety, yadda-yadda). I mean… as Doug Brown says every time he gets a chance, they’re not even really football players. :^)

  5. Jim Bentley // April 14, 2018 at 12:33 pm //

    This rule may be necessary because the size, speed and strength of today’s players have made playing on the postage stamp sized field in the States almost too crowded. The way the kicking rules are in the NFL and NCAA, why bother, they have taken the foot out of football. At least kickoffs and punts are actual plays in the CFL, much better to watch and much more potential for exciting action.

    • The NFL field is the same size as a soccer field.
      “postage size” ?? their field is 120 yards long and they have TWO LESS players on the field. Our “playing field” is only 10 yards longer and 11 yards wider, but we have the two extra players on the field.

      As the article states only 29 kicks returned for 40 yards or more in the CFL last year out of 567, so it’s not like we are losing much in the way of excitement.
      If it means fewer injuries and the kickoff is not producing yardage or field position then get rid of it.

      • Leo Lewis // April 14, 2018 at 5:49 pm //

        NFL field = 120 yds x 53 yds = 6360 sq. yds.
        divided by 22 players = 289 per

        CFL field = 150 yds x 65 yds = 9750 sq. yds.
        divided by 24 players = 406 per

        Jim Bentley is absolutely correct. Even with the extra players in Canadian football, the American field is a “postage stamp” in comparison.

  6. One of several reasons I find the NFL boring is its lack of a kicking / return game. This is one of the things that makes the CFL so much more exciting to watch!

  7. Mr. Edwards, think you better give the CFL rulebook and/or the Canadian Amateur Rule Book a careful read. There is nu such thing as a “touchback” in either book!!

  8. Where's Shultz? // April 14, 2018 at 1:18 pm //

    I love kick offs/returns and love how big a part of the CFL they are. I don’t want the rules to change, but they will. Eventually.

    Football is changing, in 50 years it might not look a whole lot like how it is now. Players are more aware of how dangerous the sport really is, less kids are playing it. Eventually, something’s got to give.

    • But it’s NOT a big part of the game. Read the article again – it is stated that ONLY 29 kicks returned for 40 yards or more that’s over 81 games and around 7 kick offs per game!!!
      Yes the punt return is better and can be more exciting but the kick offs are just not exciting and not a big part of our game.

      • Tailgate YYC // April 14, 2018 at 7:52 pm //

        Jeff, it’s a huge part of the game and it’s entertainment value. Your tree is calling, it’s missing it’s hug

  9. For player safety 4Let’s eliminate all offensive plays.

  10. I guess that means we would have to get rid of short kick-offs too, in the last minute of play? ‘Cuz someone might want to make a fair catch? And better still, just get rid of the KO and start every drive on the 35. For punts, too. And since an offensive play averages 4.2 yards, just grant that on first and second downs. That means every drive will turn into third and 2, from the 43. To avoid injury, deem the punt mandatory, and start the opposition’s drive from their 35, and so on. Each game is therefore guaranteed to end zero-zero, with no injuries. Every team will finish tied in the standings, and the GC can be decided by lottery, as long as each team wins once every nine years. Also, without injury or player stress, bye weeks are not needed, and the GC can take place in October, to accommodate ESPN.

  11. Jeff. 2 less players ion NFL field?

  12. Sorry Jeff. Guess I can’t count!

  13. Edward Leslie // April 14, 2018 at 7:41 pm //

    Jeff: Actually the game of football was invented in Canada by British soldiers stationed here. The first actual game of football was played at McGill university. The game more resembled rugby innthe early days, but the US’s resembled Soccer. Harvard liked ours better, and adopted it after Harvard and McGill played games against each other.
    We also had the gooseneck goalposts before the NFL did. Our Field turf was superior to their astroturf, so they switched.
    Lately the NFL has discussed switching to an 18 game season. We’ve had an 18 game season since the mid 1980s.
    Jeff, I prefer most of the Canadian differences between the CFL and NFL. If you prefer the NFL, the answer is obvious. Go and watch the NFL instead and quit whining and complaining about wanting the CFL to be a copycat of the NFL.

  14. Edward Leslie // April 14, 2018 at 7:49 pm //

    The Kick returns are an exciting part of the game. It’s tradition. The NFL already diminishes the excitement with fair catches and touchbacks. They might as well get rid of returns, as there are few anyway. I really couldn’t care less what that league does.
    But in the CFL, the returns create excitement, with the likes of Brandon Banks, Chris Williams, Diontae Spencer, Chad Owens, Martese Jackson and Roy
    Finch always electrifying game changers.

  15. Just saying // April 14, 2018 at 9:11 pm //

    5 yard rule, yah that’s good enough.

  16. Want to make the game safer. Eliminate blocking & tackling.

  17. If the goal of the rule change is to lower the number of kickoff returns, why have a kickoff at all?

    I would argue that the statistics around concussions being 5 times more likely on a kickoff aren’t a good comparison without taking a deeper dive into the rest of the game. You could easily break it down further and you may find that passing routes over the middle have a much higher probability of the play resulting in a concussion than a kickoff, but, the rules won’t change for that play to include something ridiculous like a fair catch with a 5 yard return from the spot of the catch. Any rule changes in that case would be focused around how the player gets tackled, which is perhaps a better place to focus when looking at kickoff return rules as opposed to materially changing the game.

    This analysis on concussions was done in the NFL where the kickoff rules aren’t comparable with the CFL. With the no yards rule in the CFL I would be interested to see how much the stats around concussions differ from the NFL, including the difference in number of concussions between kickoffs where there is or isn’t a no yards penalty. Perhaps we’d find that the NFL and NCAA would be safer with a no yards rule ahead of the fair catch rule.

    • Freddy et al, you are aware that no yards only applies on punts and missed field goals in Canada??

  18. Edward Leslie // April 15, 2018 at 3:58 pm //

    Freddy: Good point. A 5 yard safety area. No yards for infringing on it. The CFL has it. The NFL needs it.
    Our league had many injuries back in the days when the returners were referred to as the suicide squad. There was no blocking allowed until 1975.

  19. HenleyFan // April 15, 2018 at 7:05 pm //

    Imagine the excitement if all kickoffs had to land (unless caught in the air by either team) on the kicking team’s side of the receiving team’s 35 yard line? That would raise the stakes, resulting in more short kickoffs. To reduce injuries stemming from the speed of player collisions, no pre-kick motion would be allowed on the kicking team with the exception of the kicker. Decreasing the field advantage of kickoffs would also reduce field goals and encourage third down gambles.

  20. good point; i’d rather see a great return called back, than a “fair” catch

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