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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, which were handled by the college rules committee until the NFL adopted its own rulebook in 1932.

The 2018 rules were initially passed for one season only, but made permanent in 2019.

Contact

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

Formation

1932Receiving team may line up anywhere 10 yds from kick (NCAA changed this to 5, and NFL kept the original 10)
2006A minimum of 4 kicking team players must be on both sides of the ball
2009Kicking team must have on each side of the ball at least 3 players outside the hashmarks including 1 outside the numbers
2011Kicking team players must be no more than 5 yards behind the ball
2018Kicking team players must be no more than 1 yard behind the ball and no prekick motion
2018Kicking team players must have 5 on either side of the ball, at least 2 between hashmarks and numbers, at least 2 outside numbers
2018Receiving team must have 8 players within the “setup zone” (15-yd zone between 10-25 yards from the ball)
2018Receiving team cannot exit the setup zone on either side until the ball touches the ground or a player
2021Receiving team is permitted to have a 9th player in the setup zone at their option

Kickoff spot

192040-yard line
192450-yard line (1 season only, as a concession for disallowing dirt mounds as natural tees)
192540-yard line (53 seasons total)
1926Safety kicks from the 20-yard line, instead of the offense running a scrimmage play 1st & 10 from their 30
1942Must be on or inside hashmarks, not in a side zone
197435-yard line
199430-yard line (17 seasons)
2008Kickoff must be made at the restraining line, removing an option to place anywhere behind
201135-yard line (29 seasons total, as of 2019)

Touchbacks

1926Kickoff out of bounds in the end zone is an automatic touchback
2016Touchbacks on kickoffs go to the 25-yard line (for one season only)
2017Touchback to the 25 extended 1 season
2018Touchback to the 25 made permanent
2018An untouched kick is a touchback when it touches the ground in the end zone

Kickoff out of bounds

1920An out-of-bounds ball remains live until recovered or deemed unplayable by ground rules
1923Kicking team may recover a live out-of-bounds ball beyond the goal line extended for a touchdown
1926Any out-of-bounds ball is no longer live
1937Receiving team ball at 35 yd line or out-of-bounds spot (previously 5 yds and rekick)
1938Receiving team ball at 45 yd line and placed on nearest hashmark
1939If the kick touches the receiving team only, receivers ball at the out-of-bounds spot
19445-yard penalty and rekick (unless touched by receivers)
1984Limit of 1 rekick due to penalty
1987No rekick, except for onside kicks. Receivers get the ball at the 40-yard line, or out-of bounds spot on rekick
2003Kicking team does not get a second onside kick chance inside of 5:00 of 4th quarter
2004Period can be extended for a safety kick out of bounds
2009Removed the onside kick exception entirely
2011Receivers 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
1932NFL reinstated the ability to use a natural tee with soil in the proximity of the kick location
1939A natural tee is permitted to be no more than 3 inches of soil
1948Flexible artificial tees are allowed
1954No tee for a safety kick
1983Natural tees prohibited
19941-inch tee height is standardized

Foul enforcement

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

Shoes

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

Timing rules

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

Photo: joepopp/Flickr

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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)

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