Today is day two of a scheduled two-day league summit gathering a collective of owners, coaches, officials, former players, and representation from the NFLPA to discuss matters pertaining to player safety. Yesterday was dedicated to ironing out some of the final details of the newly-approved lowering of the helmet rule that many expect to fundamentally change the but, but which likely will not.
Today will be dedicated to discussing the future of the kickoff, and people such as former Pro Bowl special teamer Steve Tasker will be present. While he said that he believes that the death of the kickoff is just around the corner, he also expressed optimism in coming up with an exciting alternative.
But NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent told Judy Battista yesterday that ending the kickoff is not currently discussing getting rid of the kickoff, even if that can come later. She did say that Vincent told her there could be a modification of the kickoff in time for the 2018 season.
Troy Vincent says the league is NOT contemplating getting rid of the kickoff, but modifying it — likely in time for the 2018 season.
— Judy Battista (@judybattista) May 1, 2018
The object of today’s meeting is to attempt to iron out a proposal about altering the kickoff in time to present at the next owners meeting in a few weeks, which would give them the opportunity to vote on it, and it seems likely that they will approve just about anything.
If they are not planning on getting rid of the kickoff, then what else could they be thinking? The NCAA earlier this year adopted a major modification that will allow the receiving team to signal for a fair catch anywhere on the field up to its own 25-yard line, giving them the ball at the touchback line of scrimmage.
Could this be what the NFL is considering and ends up proposing? I had thought that they might wait until the NCAA played a season under this new rule to see how it works out before adopting it themselves, as that is the same approach that they have taken for similar changes in the past, but it’s certainly possible.
The kickoff has undergone minor tweaks over the course of the past decade, starting with eliminating wedges for the kick return team. The kicking team is also no longer allowed to get more than a five-yard running start.
More recently, the line of scrimmage for the kickoff was moved up from the 30-yard line to the 35, and the line of scrimmage for a touchback was moved up from the 20-yard line to the 25. Both of these changes have been the frequency of touchbacks increase significantly.
The league has been driven to raise the rate of touchbacks, but has found itself troubled recently by the revelation, revealed by a league study, that players are still suffering concussions even on kickoffs that ultimately result in touchbacks.
Perhaps it’s a bit premature to mourn for the loss of the kickoff, but as Tasker said, it does feel like it’s around the corner. I’ll be interested to see what proposal comes out of this meeting today.