NFL Competition Committee Chairman Rich McKay said today that there is a proposal on the table that would bring major changes to kickoffs in the NFL games.
What is being discussed is moving the line of scrimmage where the ball is placed after a touchback now being the 25-yard line, rather than the 20-yard line.
In addition kickers will be able to tee the ball up on their own 35-yard line rather than their own 30, which of course means that kickoffs are going to travel five yards deeper.
The third part of the proposal is the elimination of all wedges. A year ago wedges of three or more players were banned; now even a two-man wedge (is a two-man wedge even technically a wedge?) will be against the rules.
The reason for the proposed rule changes is because "the injury rate on kickoffs remains a concern for us" according to McKay.
First of all, where is the data from this past season versus previous seasons? It has only been one year since other changes to the kickoff were made; was there no change in injuries? Did the competition committee consider perhaps they need to give it more than one year before analyzing the data?
Second, if it's all about concern for injuries, isn't the NFL being a bit hypocritical by pushing for two more games in a season? Are they expecting me to believe that two more games will not result in more injuries, but these changes to kickoffs will result in fewer injuries?
Third, if there is so much concern for injuries why has the NFL not commissioned independent research on the development of safer equipment - specifically helmets, but also mouth guards, shoulder pads and footwear. A good start would be making the Maher Mouth Guard
a mandatory piece of equipment; why hasn't the NFL done that if they are so concerned about injuries? Why is only one company allowed to make NFL helmets?
As for the net result, the first thing that will happen is more kickoffs into the end zone and more touchbacks. Would be tacklers will be five yards further down the field; kickoff returners will be fielding the ball five yards deeper. Kickoff returns are one of the most exciting plays in a game, and that will be taken away for the most part. In addition special teams play is something that distinguishes the better coaches and better teams from the rest of the pack; removing that aspect from the game is an inevitable shift towards mediocrity.
I feel as if this may not be the last step; eventually kickoffs will be outlawed and the ball will simply be placed on the 25-yard line following a touchdown. Which means the onside kick, another very exciting play - which has also been regulated to the point where it can only be pulled off if the receiving team is asleep at the wheel - will become a thing of the past.
So what can innovative coaches and quality kickers do if this rule passes? My suggestion would be to consider kicking the ball in a similar fashion to how punters do when they are trying to pin their opponent deep in their own territory. Kick the ball extremely high, having it land outside the goal line. This would force the receiving team to field the ball, and perhaps call for a fair catch. Unlike a punt, they can't just let the ball roll into the end zone; it's a live ball so they would still need to recover it once it hits the ground.
Of course all this would result in defenseless kick returners catching the ball and getting clobbered by a tackler on the kickoff team.
And that will lead to yet more rule changes.