Football Zebras
HistoryChronology of kickoff rules changes

Chronology of kickoff rules changes

The kickoff has gone through many changes over the years. Below is a chronology of revisions to the kickoff rules since 1932 when the NFL adopted its own rulebook separate from college. The 2018 rules were initially passed for one season only, but made permanent in 2019.

Contact

1945 Dead ball when recovered after fair-catch signal, unless touched by kicking team
1967 Receiver cannot signal for fair catch and block or initiate contact
1979 Prohibited blocking below the waist
2004 Dead ball when a fair-catch signal is made and caught or recovered by another receiver, unless first touched by kickers
2009 No wedge blocking of 3 or more players
2018 No contact 15 yards from kickoff spot until ball touches a player or the ground
2018 No 2-player blocking by deep players and no 2-man wedge blocks

Formation

1932 Receiving team may line up anywhere 10 yds from kick (NCAA set this at 5, and NFL kept the original 10)
2006 A minimum of 4 kicking team players must be on both sides of the ball
2009 Kicking team must have on each side of the ball at least 3 players outside the hashmarks including 1 outside the numbers
2011 Kicking team players must be no more than 5 yards behind the ball
2018 Kicking team players must be no more than 1 yard behind the ball and no prekick motion
2018 Kicking team players must have 5 on either side of the ball, at least 2 between hashmarks and numbers, at least 2 outside numbers
2018 Receiving team must have 8 players within the “setup zone” (15-yd zone between 10-25 yards from the ball)
2018 Receiving team cannot exit the setup zone on either side until the ball touches the ground or a player

Kickoff spot

1920 40-yard line
1924 50-yard line (1 season only)
1925 40-yard line (53 seasons total)
1926 Safety kicks from the 20-yard line, instead of the offense running a scrimmage play 1st & 10 from their 30
1942 Must be on or inside hashmarks, not in a side zone
1974 35-yard line
1994 30-yard line (17 seasons)
2011 35-yard line (29 seasons total, as of 2019)

Touchbacks

2016 Touchbacks on kickoffs go to the 25-yard line (for one season only)
2017 Touchback to the 25 extended 1 season
2018 Touchback to the 25 made permanent
2018 An untouched kick is a touchback when it touches the ground in the end zone

Kickoff out of bounds

1920 An out-of-bounds ball remains live until recovered or deemed unplayable by ground rules
1923 Kicking team may recover a live out-of-bounds ball beyond the goal line for a touchdown
1926 Any out-of-bounds ball is no longer live
1937 Receiving team ball at 35 yd line or out-of-bounds spot (previously 5 yds and rekick)
1938 Receiving team ball at 45 yd line and placed on nearest hashmark
1939 If the kick touches the receiving team only, receivers ball at the out-of-bounds spot
1944 5-yard penalty and rekick (unless touched by receivers)
1984 Limit of 1 rekick due to penalty
1987 No rekick, except for onside kicks. Receivers get the ball at the 40-yard line, or out-of bounds spot on rekick
2003 Kicking team does not get a second onside kick chance inside of 5:00 of 4th quarter
2004 Period can be extended for a safety kick out of bounds
2009 Removed the onside kick exception entirely
2011 Receivers ball remains at the 40, but now enforced as 25 yds from kickoff spot (due to kickoff spot change) and 30 yds on safety kicks

Kicking tees

1924 “Natural tees” to elevate the ball with dirt were prohibited, as it was too time consuming; a teammate could hold the ball instead
1939 A natural tee permitted to be no more than 3 inches from soil in the proximity of the kick location
1948 Flexible artificial tees are allowed
1954 No tee for a safety kick
1983 Natural tees prohibited
1994 1-inch tee height is standardized

Foul enforcement

1941 Dead-ball personal fouls on scoring teams assessed on kickoff
1944 All fouls except for fair-catch interference are a rekick
1976 Fouls on the extra-point attempt against the defense can be assessed on the kickoff
1984 Limit of 1 rekick due to penalty
1993 On fouls by both teams, receivers can decline kickers’ foul and enforce theirs at the post-possession foul spot
2004 Offside can be enforced at the previous spot or the dead-ball spot
2006 Personal fouls and unnecessary roughness during halftime or in intermission before overtime are enforced on next kickoff
2006 All kicking team fouls can be enforced at the dead-ball spot
2009 No rekicks on illegal onside kicks
2010 End of half personal fouls and unnecessary roughness are enforced on next kickoff
2019 Fouls on a touchdown play may be enforced on the conversion attempt, instead of only enforced on the kickoff

Shoes

1942 No detachable kicking toe
1969 Kicking shoes must be of standard production from manufacturer
1977 Kicking shoes for artificial limbs must have the kicking surface of a standard shoe
1986 Kicking shoe requirements clarified

Timing rules

1932 Fair catch is permitted on kickoffs
1990 Game clock runs on ready-for-play after a kickoff, except if <2:00/2nd, <5:00/4th, injury, or TV timeout
1991 Remove the 1990 rule, as clock starts on snap for any possession change
1995 Establish the 25-second clock procedure, winding when ball is handed to kicker and kickoff ready signal at about 10 seconds
2002 Run game clock when the ball touched in the field of play (no 2:00 exception)
2004 Period can be extended for a safety kick out of bounds

Photo: joepopp/Flickr

Ben Austro
Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)
Top