CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 16: Robbie Gould #9 of the Chicago Bears kicks off to the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field on October 16, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Last year, the NFL pushed kickoffs up to the 35-yard line from the 30 and reduced the running start of the kickoff team in an effort to reduce the number of concussions sustained on that particular play. While it reduced the number of returns to a record low (53.5%), the rule increased the number of touchbacks (43.6 percent from 16.4 percent) and increased the average yards per kickoff return to 23.8, a record high (23.7 in 1962 being the previous record). And according to Giants President John Mara...
"One thing we did determine is that by moving the kickoff to the 35 yard-line it reduced the number of returns, but reduced the number of concussions by 40 percent," Mara said. "So I don't think you'll see that rule change. The kickoff is by far the most dangerous play that we have in our game. The hits are pretty violent and they come from all different directions. There are guys running full speed, that's the problem. That's why we put the rule in. It shortens the field a little bit and it cuts down the number of returns."
But is this just the start of taking the kickoff out of the NFL?
"There was no support for moving the kickoff back to the 30 yard-line," Mara said. "I think everybody was convinced by the statistics. The interesting thing was that, yes, we moved the kickoff to the 35 and, yes, that caused far fewer returns and poorer field position for the offense, but scoring was not affected (an average of 44.36 points were scored per game, virtually the same as the 2010 average of 44.07). The game we have right now is as wide open a game as we've ever had. The fact that field position went backward had no effect on scoring. So there really is no sentiment for moving it back to the 30."
Okay, that's all fine, well and good. But it's what Mara says afterward that's fairly disconcerting...
"We had a lot of discussions about whether we should eliminate it and if we did what we could do in its place," he said. "There's no consensus on it right now, but I could see the day in the future where that play could be taken out of the game.
"You see it evolving toward that. Nobody would go that far now, but we talk about different blocks that we can outlaw. The problem is that the concussions come from everywhere, from the wedge, from the crossing blocks where a guy goes from one side of the field to another, from a full speed collision between a return guy and a tackler. So there's no one thing that you can do. It's something that we'll continue to watch as closely as possible."
I have no problem if the competition committee wants to make the game safer. But kickoffs aren't the only play on which concussions or other illegal hits can occur, and it seems like that's where their attention is focused. If you want to start the game on a touchback, just do it already.
The competition committee also has a few other changes coming into effect and others that are tabled for the next meeting in May...
- Automatic review of all turnovers and showing the referee's "under-the-hood" view to the in-stadium fans
- Carryover of last postseason's overtime rules into the regular season
- Possibly expanding the training camp rosters from 80 to 90 players; an exempt roster spot for a concussed player; and an exception to injured reserve - a player injured before Week 2 can return to games after 8 weeks instead of missing the season.
And if you were wondering why the NFL has only had a full-season IR...
Twenty years ago, players could come off IR after four weeks. But the system was changed, because too many teams were abusing the system by stashing players who weren't really hurt on injured reserve. But some have come to view the current system as too restrictive.
What do you think of the rules changes and potential changes? Do you think kickoffs are on the way out of the game?