Icing kicker timeouts rule: College football vs. NFL

Both college football and the NFL allow coaches to “ice” kickers by calling timeouts right before field-goal attempts or extra points. There’s no restriction on calling timeouts before those plays, which is why coaches at both levels do it all the time.

But the sports’ rules aren’t quite the same.

NFL teams can ice a kicker only once per attempt.

In the NFL, a team is allowed to call only one timeout per “dead-ball period.” That means a coach can’t call two timeouts in between the same two plays.

The exact rule, emphasis added:

Each team may be granted a charged team timeout during the same dead-ball period, but a second charged team timeout by either team during the same dead-ball period is prohibited. Such team timeouts may follow a Referee’s timeout or any automatic timeouts.

The most obvious time when this might come up is before a big field-goal attempt, if a coach has saved up more than one timeout and really wants to play mind games. But the rule also matters if a team wants to adjust its personnel presnap on offense or defense. The NFL doesn’t let you take more than one timeout at a time to do that.

College teams can call timeouts whenever they want.

There’s no prohibition on consecutive timeouts in the NCAA’s rulebook. If a team wants to use all three of its timeouts back-to-back — before an opposing field-goal attempt or at any other time in the game — there’s nothing stopping it.

In 2017, Houston exploited the lack of such a rule in a game against Memphis. As the Tigers lined up for a 52-yard field-goal attempt, UH head coach Major Applewhite called a timeout right before the long snap, three times in a row. (Memphis’ kicker used the occasion to take three practice kicks, and two went through.) But on the kicker’s fourth attempt, the first one that actually counted, he missed.

There’s no evidence that icing the kicker actually does anything.

The idea is to put extra pressure on the kicker by making him psyche himself up repeatedly.

Research hasn’t turned up any statistical proof that kickers who get iced are any less accurate than those who aren’t taunted with timeouts. One study found that kickers who were iced were slightly more accurate than those who weren’t.

Not every coach ices opposing kickers, but plenty do, and they’re unlikely to stop. The downside is zero or close to zero, depending on how valuable you think a practice kick might be to the other side’s kicker. And if a coach is worried about giving him one, he can just call his timeout before the units line up.