The latest change to the kickoff rules in college football might be another step toward eliminating the play all together.
Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre believes, however, that it's actually another step toward a safer, more exciting play.
Last week, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel voted to adopt a new rule that allows the receiving team to fair catch a kickoff inside the 25-yard line. That would automatically spot the ball at the 25 — just like a touchback.
The change is aimed at player safety, as studies have shown that there is a higher level of severe injuries on kickoffs than on other plays. For the past several years, college football and the NFL have discussed ideas on how to make kickoffs safer.
MacIntyre is in favor of the change, but he believes more is coming.
"We wanted to do some more things to it," he said. "There was too many things to get it all explained (this year). This was kind of the first step.
"We would like to turn the kickoff return to more of a punt return type philosophy, because not many people get hurt at all on punt returns. That's the philosophy of trying to keep the kickoff in the game."
In an effort to reduce injuries that occur on the brutal collisions on kickoffs, college football moved kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35 in 2012. As intended that led to more touchbacks and fewer collisions.
From 2007-11, 79.5 percent of the kickoffs at CU games were returned. Since 2012, only 50.2 percent of the kickoffs at CU games have featured returns, and in the past two years, that number is down to 40.1 percent.
While there have been fewer returns, coaches countered the move to the 35-yard line with a strategy of short kickoffs aimed at pinning the return team deep.
"The kickers got better and started kicking them high and they'd land on the 1, and (the kicking team) is 5 yards closer now," MacIntyre said. "Now, it's bang-bang. It was a little bit of an injury concern."
Adding the option of fair catching the short kicks this year should reduce the number of returns — and collisions — even more.
The change will also alter how coaches prepare their players for the kick, and for the return.
Teams may opt for more squib kicks, but MacIntyre said, "That could back fire. Squibs go out of bounds, they go short and all of a sudden the fullback grabs it on the 40. There's a lot of different situations on that."
CU, at least home, is likely to continue kicking deep. Kickoff specialist Davis Price is back this season after putting 62.5 percent of his kicks into the end zone for touchbacks last year. He and fellow kicker James Stefanou both have the leg strength to produce touchbacks at sea level, too.
"In Colorado, I'm going to try to kick deep with the altitude," MacIntyre said.
On returns, MacIntyre said the Buffs' decision on whether to fair catch or not will change from week to week and kick to kick.
"You'll teach the kids to look at the trajectory of the ball," he said. "We'll time the kickers' height (of the ball) on film. We'll look at that. We'll work on trajectory of the ball. If the kicker is kicking it really high like a punt, then you go, 'Shoot, just fair catch and get it on the 25.
"We won't have as many returns, probably, and it'll curtail some of the injuries."
While the kickoff may one day be out of the game, MacIntyre believes this new rule is just the start of a new version of the play.
"I think next year we'll even tweak the kickoff some more," he said. "I don't know if they'll make it a punt, but if you do a few things and you have more guys up and you move the kickoff team up a little bit, then everybody is retreating and it's not as big of a collision and it's more like a punt.
"I think if we keep progressing with this, I think it's going to make the kickoff a more fun play in the future if we do it right and make it a lot safer play. That's what we're trying to head toward."