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Sunday, December 9, 2018

Report: NCAA considering rule to ban fake fair catch punt return

Keegan Brewer

The NCAA is considering a rule that would ban the fake fair catch punt return, according to a report.

North Texas went viral on Saturday for running a fake fair catch punt return for a touchdown in their win over Arkansas. Though the play was widely celebrated for its execution and seeming ingenuity, we called it out immediately for being an abuse of a rule designed for player safety. The NCAA may see it the same way.

ESPN Arkansas’ Tommy Craft reported Monday that the NCAA football rules committee is considering a rule amendment that would ban fake fair catch punt returns.

Here’s why the play should not be allowed.

Punt returns and kick returns are among the most dangerous plays in football. Players are running at full speed and collisions happen at all angles, which can potentially result in severe injuries. Football rules have evolved to try and make these plays more safe. On punt returns, returners are allowed to signal for a fair catch, which prevents them from advancing the ball, but more importantly, prevents them from being hit.

Players on the punt coverage teams — the gunners — are instructed not to hit a player who has called for a fair catch to avoid being penalized. If there is any doubt about whether a returner called for fair catch, these players are operating on good faith by not hitting the returner. That good faith should not be abused and taken advantage of in the way North Texas did.

If there is ever confusion about whether a fair catch was called, you want players erring on the side of caution and player safety by showing restraint and not hitting a vulnerable punt returner. By allowing teams to toy with this good faith through fakes, you are incentivizing punt coverage teams to hit the punt returner in cases of doubt. This could also lead to retribution hits as well. These types of hits could lead to serious injuries, which is what the sport is trying to eliminate.

This sort of play should never have been conceived, practiced, or used by North Texas, and it shouldn’t be allowed. The referees on the field should not have allowed it. The NCAA needs to step up immediately and ban the play if they care about player safety as much as they claim to.

H/T 247 Sports

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