College Football Rules: Kicks/Kicking The Ball

At the suggestion of a friend, tonight’s edition of The DA Blog Sunday Night College Football Rules Review will focus on Kicks/Kicking The Ball, which is an obscure, relevant, under-appreciated, and misunderstood aspect of the game.   (Thanks to DJ for the topic.)

As a holiday special, tonight’s test has multiple questions.  Good luck.

Question 1:  According to the NCAA Football 2013 and 2014 Rules and Interpretations, how many types of kicks exist?

1)  1;

2)  2;

3)  3;

4)  4; or

5)  None.

You are correct if you answered “3”.  They are the punt, drop kick, and place kick, which interestingly are defined relative to where the ball is when kicked.  (A punt is a kick occurring when the ball is dropped but kicked before it hits the ground.  A drop kick is a kick occurring when the ball is dropped and kicked as it hits the ground.  A place kick is a kick occurring when the ball has been placed on the ground or a kicking tee.)

Question 2:  How many types of place kicks exist and what are they?

Answer 2:  Two. The Field Goal Place Kick and The Free Kick Place Kick.

Question 3:  What is the difference between the Answers in Question 2?

Answer 3:  One is made with two players and the other with only one player.

Question 4:  What is the maximum distance a kicker may elevate the lowest point of the ball above the ground during a Free Kick Place Kick?

Answer 4:  One inch.

Answer 2 indicates that two types of Place Kicks exist, and because we previously discussed Field Goal Place Kicks, let’s look at the Free Kick at Rule 2, Section 16 (the Definitions, See Pages 36 and 37) and Rule 6, Section 1 (See Pages 66-69).

Generally, a Free Kick is a kick that occurs during a “break in the action” and normally follows a scoring play.  Sometimes, it follows a bad offensive play, such as a team suffering a two-point safety that results in that team also having to Free Kick the ball to the opposing team, which gives that opponent a chance to score again–right after it scored two points for the safety.  (This emphasizes just how big a two-point safety can be:  You score two points and receive possession of the ball with another chance to score.)  At other times, a Free Kick follows a good offensive play, such as a team scoring a six-point touchdown and Try Down points, which may include another touchdown.  (Read “Try Down” if you’re confused.)  Football is generally not a “make-it, take-it” game, where scoring entitles you yet another chance to score, which might result in out-of-control scores.

(Speaking of out of control scores, Georgia Tech once beat Cumberland 222-0 in a regulation college football game.  Famous John Heisman coached Georgia Tech in this 1916 blowout.)

Next, the Definition:  According to the Rules, a Free Kick is “a kick by a player of the team in possession made under restrictions specified in Rules 4-1-4, 6-1-1 and 6-1-2”.  So the definition does very little other than point us to other sections, which reveals that lawyers clearly were involved.  As a passing note, the definition also notes that a Free Kick after a safety may be a punt, drop kick or place kick.  (A Free Kick, as the name implies, does not consist of the opposing team attempting rudely and violently trying to interrupt the kick.  Compare this to a Scrimmage Kick, which as the name implies, is a kick made from the line of scrimmage and one the opposing team is actually trying to interrupt.)

Next, the Kicking Rules:  I shall not dissect each rule pertaining to Free Kicks (as they run for 3.5 pages).  I shall, however, tell you what I found interesting about those pages.

1)  The Kicking Team may not recover and possess a Free Kick until it hits “any player, the ground, an official or anything beyond [the Receiving Team’s] Restraining Line”.  (Each team must start a Free Kick behind their respective Restraining Lines.)

“Anything”?  I did not know this.  It appears that if the Kicking Team blasts the ball into an official and recovers it inbound, the ball is theirs.  But how about if the Free Kick hits a passing flock of birds?  I read this rule to state that the ball becomes “live” (and perhaps a bird “dead”) upon this event–and that the ball doesn’t even need to touch the ground first.  (On that note, perhaps DK will tell us about the time he struck a live bird with his golf ball.  I love that story.)

2)  If the Free Kick comes to rest and neither team attempts to recover it, the officials are to declare the ball dead and award possession to the Receiving Team at the dead-ball spot.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen this and can’t imagine the Kicking Team not attempting to recover it.  I suppose this has happened (and therefore the rule exists).  Perhaps this means I need to watch more football.  (Married folks may drop my name with a spouse if you require another excuse to watch this great game.  Let me know how it works.)

3)  Simultaneous possession of a Free Kick by eligible players from different teams results in the Receiving Team being awarded possession of the ball.  This seems common sense and reasonable–like “tie goes to the runner” in baseball.

4)  A Free Kick that touches the ground on or behind the Receiving Team’s goal line is declared dead and possession awarded to the Receiving Team.  This answers my ongoing curiosity about whether the Receiving Team needs to “down” a kickoff in the end zone by catching the ball and touching a knee to the turf.  It does not; the ball is simply dead.

5)  I now have more evidence that kicking is the best job in football.  (My belief originated in 1994 when a small group of “interested” University of Kentucky co-eds asked whether I was UK’s punter after a UK football game in Lexington.  [Shockingly, I responded “No” and walked away.])  Rule 6-1-9 says that the Receiving Team cannot block the kicker until he has advanced at least five yards beyond his Restraining Line or the ball is otherwise legally touched.  Kickers have it made–except for the Bengals punter.


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