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Buy Or Sell: 4th-And-15 Over Onside Kicks A Good Development For The Game

The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.

That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).

The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.

Topic Statement: 4th-and-15 attempts rather than onside kicks is a good advancement for the game of football.

Explanation: The league is considering the possibility of allowing teams to attempt, after a scoring play, to convert on fourth and 15 and keep the ball rather than attempting to regain possession by recovering an onside kick. 4th-and-15 plays don’t have a huge success rate, but onside kick recoveries are low, too, and this alternative at least guarantees that the theoretically losing team can keep the ball.

Buy:

The first and foremost priority of any sporting league is to provide entertainment and excitement, which thereby generates the profits that allow them to continue to conduct business. Foregoing the usually anticlimactic onside kick attempts by giving trailing teams possession of the ball—even under adverse circumstances—increases excitement while not dramatically changing the face of the game, and that in my mind is a win.

Ultimately, we should not see outcomes change radically. Fourth and 15 still isn’t easy to convert. Last season, there were only seven attempts on fourth and 15, and only two of them converted. That’s a conversion rate of nearly 30 percent, but also a very small sample size (and a very specific sample).

Sell:

The fact that the rule being proposed limits teams to attempting this no more than two times in a game displays within itself the internal belief that this is a significant change that is potentially too powerful to be unlimited.

A team should not be rewarded if it is in need of more points in such a late stage of the game that it can’t afford to put its defense back on the field. They should at least have to experience the threat of losing possession, and not just be awarded the ball back.

In addition, the rule does not limit this to teams who are tied or trailing, which leaves it open to people like Bill Belichick to exploit. I’m not 100 percent sure on how he might go about doing that, but you know he would.

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