Last year college football recruiting dramatically changed when the NCAA implemented an early signing period, one change that greatly benefited the University of Kentucky. This year the NCAA has changed a few rules that could hurt the Cats.
1. Kickoff Returns
Under the guise of player safety, returning teams can now call a fair catch on a kickoff inside the 20 and start the ensuing drive at the 25 yard-line. Now you don’t have to kick the ball into the end zone for it to be a touchback.
If you have an excellent kicker, this rule eliminates a special teams advantage. No longer will you be able to use a high kick inside the ten to pin back your opponent; they can just wave for a fair catch and start at the 25. Former All-American Kentucky returner Derek Abney told the Herald-Leader the rule change could actually make kickoff returns more dangerous.
“It’s worth noting this change may actually achieve the opposite effect and place the returner in more dangerous situations,” Abney said. “Teams may now kick to the 15-, 20-yard line with an emphasis on hang time to allow the cover team to get downfield. This puts the returner in a precarious position as far as his safety goes. If the receiving team is down a couple touchdowns late in the game, the returner will be more likely to risk his safety for a potential TD return.”
Kentucky has not returned a kickoff for a touchdown in (at least) six years, but Lynn Bowden got awfully close at Vanderbilt last year. Unfortunately this rule change will decrease Bowden’s opportunities to take it to the house.
2. Booze (at some places)
Much noise has been made since yesterday’s development that LSU is spear-heading a campaign for alcohol sales in SEC stadiums during games. The NCAA actually changed a rule to allow alcohol sales — at conference and national championships. That doesn’t necessarily apply to the UK football team, yet. However, basketball fans can now enjoy a cold one on the road to the Final Four.
3. Redshirt Rule Remains
There’s one rule the NCAA did not touch that Mark Stoops wanted to see this fall. The NCAA discussed amending the redshirt rule. The new rule would allow athletes to keep their season of eligibility if they played in less than four games.
In 2016, Stephen Johnson tore two ligaments in his knee against Tennessee. The following week there was no plan for Johnson to play. Luke Wright started and almost immediately threw a pick six. Stoops couldn’t waste a year of Gunnar Hoak’s eligibility to get an easy win against Austin Peay, so Stephen had to play through pain to secure a bowl berth.
“I think that rule change would make a lot of sense,” Stoops said during the 2016 SEC spring teleconference. “We were in that situation last year when we had a quarterback hurt early in the year, Drew Barker. We played most of the year with our backup quarterback being a redshirt guy. We decided to keep that redshirt on Gunnar Hoak in Game 11. Played our third-team quarterback, who did some good things. But it was a situation that could’ve benefited us a year ago. It can protect the player in a redshirt year, it can help gain experience for the following year.”
It all worked out. Johnson was good enough in a knee brace to beat Lamar Jackson’s Louisville. However, the rule change could dramatically alter the end of a season. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait a little longer for the NCAA to act.