Roger Goodell's Interesting- If Flawed- Kickoff Replacement

The Star-Ledger-US PRESSWIRE

Taking a look at Goodell's recently proposed alternative for kickoffs, and finding the potential flaws.

You know, by the time I post this it will probably have been passed as official NFL rule.

It's well known that the most dangerous play in the NFL is, generally speaking, kickoff returns. You've got very big professional athletes racing across an open field and ultimately smashing into one another. This of course also means that, when someone breaks off a big run, or there's a fumble, or some other such situation, kickoff returns can become the most exciting play in the NFL.

But we have been learning recently to temper our coliseum-style enjoyment for the brutality of the game with respect to the effects these injuries can have on the men who grind away for our enjoyment. Considering the league's focus on player safety- particularly concussions, but also in terms of any serious injury- the NFL front office has been constantly researching ways to limit the danger involved in kickoffs. Most recently we saw the starting kickoff spot moved up, increasing the amount of touchbacks and limiting the open field returns that can risk such injury, as well as shortening the field these guys are charging on.

Now Roger Goodell, in an interview with Time magazine, has proposed a further adjustment- essentially, removing kickoffs and replacing them with something altogether. His idea (which he says he actually got from rookie Bucs coach Greg Schiano) is that, instead of kickoffs, the team that would be kicking would receive the ball at the 30 yard line. They would then have a 4th-and-15, meaning they can either try and make the play and therefore keep possession (essentially, an onside kick), or punt it away (essentially, an in theory shorter kickoff).

It's an interesting proposal to be sure. But creativity and innovation, while generally good things, should always be considered in light of potential unintended consequences. And this is no exception. Here are three issues I see with this idea:

First, it favors high powered offenses just a tad much. A team like the Patriots or the Packers has considerably higher chances to convert the 4th-and-15 than a team like, oh, let's say the Vikings. (Sigh.) The chances for recovering an onside kick are far more even, as a good deal of luck is involved. While yes, teams obviously prepare for onside kicks (both in terms of recovery and prevention), and the better prepared team has in theory the advantage, it's still a fairly chaotic situation where you really are taking your chances. Teams with high-powered offenses already have distinct advantages; this just naturally increases that.

Second, it in theory could mean that a team practically never gets to have the ball. Chip Kelly would love this idea. Let's consider for example the last Packers-Vikings game. After exhausting our defense for 11 disgusting minutes, with a guy like Aaron Rodgers behind center, the odds would be pretty good that the Pack could have converted the 4th-and-15. A risk? Sure, of course. If they fail we get the ball easily within striking range of a TD. (In theory. In practice, even had they failed, Christian Ponder would have just given the ball right back to them anyways.) But the fact remains that you're increasing the odds of absolute massacres happening between great teams and terrible teams.

The third problem is that it may simply just not have the intended effect. If you do choose to punt, a strong punter is essentially just making it a kickoff anyways. Yes, the field would be shorter as I can't think of a punter who could actually boot it to the endzone from the 30 yard line, but as the game would evolve you would start seeing those guys out there. Within a few years you would have punters on teams that could boot the ball to the opposing 10 from their own 30, because that's how the game works. So you would end up pretty much in the same situation as a kickoff anyways.

So yes, it's an interesting and novel idea to be sure. And I'm fine with the NFL constantly trying to come up with ways to limit injuries on kickoff returns, because as exciting as those plays can be, no real football fan ever enjoys seeing a guy get carted off of the field. But in my opinion, this approach is simply too laden with problems to ever be taken seriously.

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