College football fair catch rules: How are they different from the NFL?

Fair catch in college football.
Fair catch in college football. / Joel Auerbach/GettyImages

The 2023 college football season has begun which means it's time for a refresher on some rules.

The fair catch rule in CFB isn't complicated, but it did undergo a change just a few years ago so it might not be well know exactly how it works.

That's what we're here for. Let's dive into the fair catch rule and how it works on punts and kickoffs, as well as how it differs from the NFL.

College football fair catch rules

In college football, players can call for a fair catch on a punt or a kickoff.

The fair catch rule for punts is well known. The returner can raise their hand to indicate a fair catch, which will down the ball at the spot he catches it.

In 2018, college football rules changed to allow for fair catches on kickoffs as well. If a player calls for a fair catch anywhere inside the 25-yard line, it will be treated like a touchback with the ball placed at the 25 to start the drive.

The rules were changed in an attempt to make the game safer by creating fewer opportunities for big hits on kickoff returns.

Are college football fair catch rules different from the NFL?

Not anymore! At least as far as the 2023 NFL season.

During the 2023 offseason, the NFL owners approved a rule change to kickoffs allowing players to call for a fair catch which would then result in a touchback.

The new rule mirrors what the college game has done since 2018.

However, it is not a permanent change. It has only been approved for the 2023 season on a bit of a test basis. It will need to be approved again down the line if it is to remain the NFL rule in the long term.

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