Right after dropping what was at least received as a bombshell with the new lowering the helmet rule, the owners rounded out the Annual League Meeting in March with an ominous warning that the kickoff’s days could be numbered following research showing that it remains the most dangerous play in the game. Concussions continue to occur even on plays that end in touchbacks, internal league studies have shown.
I however happen to believe that the NFL will do everything it can to keep the play alive in some form or fashion for as long as possible before they actually take the step of completely getting rid of it. The blueprint for one possible alternative was just adopted for the college level.
Last week, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel “approved altering football’s kickoff rules to allow the receiving team to fair catch the kick inside the 25-yard line and have it result in a touchback”, according to the Association’s website.
This is certainly a new approach that at least to the best of my knowledge has yet to be field-tested on a significant stage. And my initial feeling is that it offers too broad a reach for its own good, which will draw the ire of the average fan.
I know one person who would absolutely hate this new rule if it should come to the NFL, and that would be New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick, who has been one of the only coaches to really try to avoid touchbacks with recent rule changes. In 2015, 28 of 99 kickoffs were returned. In 2017, 58 of 99 were returned. More than twice the frequency. Not a coincidence.
The NFL has followed the NCAA when it comes to making the kickoff safer. They moved the kickoff from the 30-yard line to the 35, then made the touchback come out to the 25 instead of the 20. I don’t think anybody would be surprised if the NFL were to adopt this new rule, or some modification of it, in a few years.
Should this actually come to pass, however, I would like to see it in another form. If a player could call for a fair catch at the two-yard line, then perhaps the touchback should only come out to the 20 again, at least for touchbacks outside of the end zone.
This would defeat the purpose of the rule itself, however, which is to increase the frequency of kickoffs that result in touchbacks. There will be more touchbacks when the ball comes out to the 25 than to the 20, period, so that is almost assuredly not going to happen.
I know many of you don’t want to see the kickoff changed at all, and even revert to past ways, for those who are open to altering the play to make it safer, how do you feel about this potential rule? How would you modify it for implementation in the NFL?