Look, don't get me wrong -- I would prefer that the wonderful game of football not be changed in such a dramatic way. But let's face it, we've only just begun really to learn about the physical dangers of participating in America's new favorite past time. The research will get more extensive over the yaers, and it's probably just a matter of time before the issue of head injuries in organized football gets taken to the courts.
One smart, preemptive way to curb the violence of the game is to eliminate kickoffs. Special teams are indisputably the most dangerous aspect of the game. It's pretty simple physics. On kickoffs, players have more time to build up velocity before impact than in any other single play. The long kickoff return and the successful head hunting by a coverage unit are some of the most exciting plays in the game, but as fans, I think we would be wise to be supportive of their elimination for the long-term benefit of the game and the players that play it. Perhaps not 'eliminate' kickoffs altogether, but some sort of drastic change that would radically decrease the likelihood of injuries. I have been advocating for changing kickoffs in the NFL all offseason as one of the main issues that the league should be discussing while they're already at the negotiating table talking money.
Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano feels the same way. Schiano joined 790 The Zone in Atlanta to talk about his ideas, why he feels it's important, and what his plan of action will be to see if he can get the proposed change implemented.
Schiano's plan to get rid of kickoffs:
"The play itself, I understand why it has traditionally been something that people wouldn’t want to touch. But when you look at, someone gave me a stat the other day and I kind of casually said this to one of our guys that covers the team and wasn’t really thinking of it becoming a big thing. I mentioned it to our coaches in the Big East but didn’t really have a plan to implement it and get it out there, but all of the sudden an article is written and all of the sudden it takes off. Because of that exposure, I got a call from a guy the other day and he said 17 to 18 percent of the catastrophic injuries in football happen on kickoffs, yet kickoffs are only about 2.5 percent of the plays in the game. … That’s a pretty big spread."
Breaking down exactly what his proposal would be:
"It’s not real complicated. Instead of having a kickoff, every place where you would have a kickoff now, you would put in place a fourth-and-15 situation. The team that would now be kicking off would have the option: They could punt the ball or they could go for it. The option to go for it would replace the onside kickoff. You could still try to maintain possession of the ball. If you don’t, then you punt the ball. I think it would start the game in similar field position. Punts are a much, much less physical play. … You don’t nearly get up to the same rate of speed. … Really, people start talking about taking the kickoff returners out of the game, and that’s true, but I believe the most skilled guys on the field are those punt returners. … I think it would really just add to the skill level needed to be successful in the game. And then, it wasn’t really in my thinking, but there is a whole other big strategy that you have to deal with as a coach now in this fourth-and-15. That’s kind of the plan in a nutshell. Again, it doesn’t matter to me if it’s this plan or another plan, but I do believe we need to make it safer for the guys."
I love it. I think it's great, particularly for the college game where high-scoring shootouts are already fairly common. It introduces more strategy to the game, it still keeps special teams a part of the action, and it definitely would have the intended effect of reducing serious injuries. Perhaps to keep some semblance of purity, maybe there's just two traditional kickoffs per game at the stat of each half, giving electric return men at least one crack at a big return. Maybe even under 2:00 mark of each half there's also traditional kickoffs, which might make it a bit tougher for a late-game miracle rally without having to get an onside kick or get a stop on defense.
I don't know, we'll see. I do think it's only a matter of time before rules like this are implemented. Why wait? And why not be creative?