Georgia’s Kirby Smart: CFB Rules Committee Will Study NFL Kickoff Rule Change in 2024

Joseph LogoFeatured Columnist IVMarch 26, 2024

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 30: Georgia head coach Kirby Smart watches the players warm up on the field before the Capital One Orange Bowl college football game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Florida State Seminoles on December 30, 2023 at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL. (Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the NFL drastically altering kickoffs, college football could eventually follow suit.

On Tuesday, NFL owners passed a rule to adopt a kickoff style that was first deployed in the XFL. Players from the kicking team will line up at the opponent’s 40-yard line, while players from the receiving team will start from the 35.

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Kicking off a new era: Owners just approved the NFL Hybrid Kickoff rule, per source.

After years of tweaks turned one of the game’s most exciting moments into a “dead, ceremonial play”, the league hopes this overhaul will yield what it wants: fewer injuries and more returns.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, who’s on the sport’s rules committee, believes the NFL/XFL kickoff could be “the model” for the college game.

“They know what they want. They know what they’re trying to do,” he told reporters. “And they’re going to get it right, and then hopefully we can look into it ourselves, if the kickoff is not part of our game.”

In an effort to make the game safer, officials at the NFL and college levels have added various rules to kickoffs that have rendered the play almost irrelevant. At both levels, the number of touchbacks rose with kickers more easily booting the ball deep and returners having more latitude to call a fair catch or take a knee.

The idea behind the XFL style is that the ball will be in play more without posing the same kind of injury risk to players that traditional kickoffs once did.

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Beyond potentially creating a little more entertainment, Smart pointed to the value of special teams in getting younger players additional reps.

“They felt like you can’t develop players in the NFL anymore without special teams,” he told reporters. “… Charlie Woerner, Nakobe Dean, their first years, they played 10 times more snaps on special teams than they did at their position. Those snaps are now irrelevant because of a fair catch or a touchback.

“If you want to develop your roster, you need special teams to develop it, and we feel the same way. I develop my roster on special teams, the guys last year that started on the units will probably start at a position this year. You need those plays to be a part of it, but you need it to be safe.”

The NFL contemplated adopting the XFL kickoff rule ahead of the 2023 season. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio cited at the time one source who said the innovation would create an “ugly play” where the returner is “crushed.” The source pointed to the speed of NFL players compared to those suiting up in the XFL.

One could envision a similar issue in college. With such an uneven distribution of talent from team to team, the receiving team could be at such a disadvantage against a stronger opponent it nullifies the benefits of fielding the kick.

If the change proves to be a success in the NFL, though, there’s little reason why it shouldn’t warrant consideration among the power brokers in college.

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