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New College Football Rules Focus on Improving Player Safety

With the increased media coverage and science-based evidence on concussion and its relation with traumatic brain injury (TBI), measures have been taken to create a safer game in the college football arena. The NCAA Football Rules Committee's main focus has been on the kicking game: Kick-offs will be moved from the 30-yard line to the 35, similar to the NFL; and touchbacks will now come out to the 25-yard line, not the 20. The main thought for this rule is to decrease the number of kickoff returns in favor of touchbacks, and to minimize the running start of the coverage teams. This is more of a conservative approach to the recommended rule change to completely abolish kickoffs altogether by Greg Schiano in 2011, Rutgers football head coach from 2001 to 2012.

Schiano was the head football coach to Rutgers player Eric LeGrand, the Rutgers player who was paralyzed in 2010 while covering a kickoff return. The other rule change is in regards to headgear. If a player loses their helmet during play, the player will be treated as if injured by being led off the field by the team physician or athletic trainer. This rule should increase the awareness of the helmet being snugly fitted on each player according to National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) standards.

The new rules are a great step towards safety of student-athletes in wake of immense media coverage of athletes in all levels of sports suffering with TBI, which may lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a degenerative brain condition that is linked to long-term repetitive head trauma, and is speculated to be the cause of Alzheimer's disease, Lou Gherig's Disease, and even sudden suicides amongst players such as Junior Seau of the NFL. In a study performed at three football colleges, there was an increase from 23 concussions during 2009-10 season to 42 during the 2010-11 season.

With these new rule changes setting the standard to creating a safer game, we won't really know if it has done its job until the NCAA football 2012-2013 statistics unfold. Football concussion rates have risen within the past couple years, whether due to increases in reported concussions or to the overall strength and speed of athletes. What these new rule changes presently show is that the sport of football is evolving. We see it in the recent changes to youth football that will reduce the amount of contact allowed during practice, and in professional play with the new requirements that players are required to wear protective knee and thigh pads beginning the 2013 season.