Kickoff returns are down about 20 percent in the first year of a new NCAA rule that gives the receiving team possession at its 25-yard line if a fair catch is made anywhere between the goal line and 25.
According to NCAA figures provided to The Associated Press on Monday, kick return men in the Football Bowl Subdivision made fair catches on about 1 out of every 10 kickoffs they received between the goal line and 25.
The rule was implemented to enhance player safety. Kick returns have been shown to have a higher injury rate compared with other types of plays because of the likelihood of high-speed player collisions.
Of the 9,079 kickoffs in the regular season, 41.2 percent (3,740) were returned. That's down from 51.2 percent at this point last season.
With the new rule, there was a fair catch on 11 percent (995) of kicks fielded between the goal line and 25. That figure is similar to what was reported at midseason. Rules officials have said they expected more fair catches because of the automatic spot at the 25.
The rate of balls kicked into or through the end zone for touchbacks was the same as last year, at 43 percent.
The fair-catch figures were generated by reports submitted to the NCAA by game officials.
NCAA national coordinator of officials Rogers Redding has said the Football Rules Committee probably will consider more changes to kickoff rules next year with the objective of reducing returns or making them less likely to result in injury.