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WVU football: Holgorsen shares his views on new rules

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- College football has changed a small number of rules for the 2012 season in its ongoing attempt to protect players.

Officials will be forced to be stricter about players losing their helmets, but most of the changes deal with special teams.

The NCAA changes rules every other year, and 2012 is not a rule change year, but exceptions nevertheless were made.

"The intent of the rules is to eliminate some of the things that endanger players in all aspects," said Walt Anderson, the Big 12 coordinator of officials. "Safety issues are the only reasons the rules committee made any changes this year."

Kickoffs will be different in 2012. All ordinary kickoffs will start from the 35-yard line, as opposed to the 30. The kickoff team is only allowed a five-yard run-up to the 35.

"That's designed, to some degree, to reduce the run-up and reduce the violence that occurs on kickoffs," Anderson said.

Touchbacks on kickoffs also will come out five more yards to the 25-yard line. Anderson acknowledged there will be more touchbacks, which limits not only the returns, but also the dangerous, high-speed collisions.

College football is mirroring what the NFL did in 2011, and though that limited injuries, it didn't completely limit excitement.

"Early year last year, if you remember, the kickoff team was going down the field slow because they knew the kick was going into the end zone," said West Virginia Coach Dana Holgorsen. "By the time they'd relaxed, the guys took it out eight yards deep.

"There were a whole bunch of kickoff returns in the NFL early on before everyone adjusted. We've done all the studies and we've got a plan and understand how to do it."

All other touchbacks on punts or fumbles will come out to the 20.

For onside kicks, balls driven into the ground by the kicker to produce the desired high bounce will be treated as though the ball never hit the ground.

The goal is to keep players on the kickoff team from slamming into an unprotected player on the receiving team who is attempting to field the kick.

Previously, a ball driven into the ground was treated as live and available for anyone to field and a player on the kickoff team could take out a player from the receiving team with a hit.

A player from the fielding team couldn't call for a fair catch, either, though that has now changed.

Similarly, punt returners are protected by the "halo rule," a one-yard radius around the player. If a player from the kicking team violates the radius, he's assessed a penalty. The rule is supposed to keep players from the kicking team from speeding into the punt returner and instead encourage the players on the kicking team to make safer and more fundamental tackles.

"An element of time has to occur," Anderson said. "If you're shoulder-to-shoulder with (the punt returner) as he catches the ball, that should be a foul. But there's also discretion. If you're buzzing around and another second the ball is there, then let's see what happens.

"Without the halo, so many kicking teams were trying to time the action so by the time the ball got there, their guys were full-speed and, within fractions of a second, were blowing the return guys up."

Players on the punt return also are no longer allowed to try and block a punt by leaping over the shield of players on the punting team in front of the punter.

Anderson said officials also will pay closer attention to where defensive players hit offensive players and where offensive players target defensive players during blocks. The NCAA wants players to lower their target zones, especially when dealing with unsuspecting players.

"If it looks like a high hit and there's contact, the officials are instructed to throw the flag," Anderson said. "What we tell the players is this is a game of risk. The higher you want to target someone, the more at risk you are for a foul being called."

The officials will also pay close attention to players and their helmets. If a players loses his helmet during a play that's not the result of an opponent's penalty, like a facemask, he must sit the following play. If a ball carrier loses his helmet, the play will be whistled dead. If anyone else loses his helmet, the play continues, but that player can't participate in the play.

If he does continue, or if an opponent engages him, the officials will throw a flag.

Blocking, and who can block, also is changing. Any offensive player who starts the play outside the tackle box, or who motions inside the tackle box but isn't set before the snap, can't block an opponent below the waist.

Additionally, no offensive player can come back toward the line of scrimmage and block an opponent below the waist. That, in particular, will be a change for spread offenses that ask receivers to stay in a play and make blocks across the field.

That's a change WVU must make, though not the only one. Centers who control a silent count with head motions, like WVU's Joe Madsen, could be penalized for false starts. Officials are supposed to throw a flag if they believe the head motion or sinking into a pre-snap stance actually is an attempt to pull the defense offside.

"It doesn't matter if I like them or not," Holgorsen said. "I've got to understand and coach them. I'm not going to get into what I think, or whether it's right or wrong. My stance on referees is to ignore them. I'm not going to sit there and question them."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at or 304-319-1142. His blog is at


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