Goodell floats idea to end kickoffs, report says
Commissioner Roger Goodell recently discussed a proposal to eliminate kickoffs with Rich McKay, the head of the league’s competition committee, Time magazine reported.
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Goodell and McKay discussed an idea brought up by Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano in which a team, instead of kicking off, would get the ball at its own 30-yard line in a fourth-and-15 situation. The team then would punt the ball away or, to replace an onside kick, could go for it and, if they failed to get a first down, the opposing squad would start with great field position.
“The fact is, it’s a much different end of the play,” Goodell said during the meeting, according to Time.
Schiano discussed his idea earlier in the season in an ESPN The Magazine story. Schiano, who was the coach at Rutgers in 2010 when Eric LeGrand was paralyzed on a kickoff, has seen first-hand how the play can adversely affect the safety of players.
LeGrand broke two vertebrae and suffered a serious spinal cord injury in October 2010 during a kickoff return against Army. He became an inspiration to his college teammates, eventually being able to stand upright with the help of a metal frame.
Schiano told ESPN The Magazine in September that he believed kickoffs would eventually be eliminated from pro football. “I believe that day will come. Unfortunately, it will probably take more players being seriously hurt. But I think there’s another way to do this.”
The NFL already has been working to make kickoffs safer.
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Last season, the NFL moved kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35 and required the coverage unit to start within 5 yards of the ball, closing the distance between the teams. Both rules had their desired effects. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 16.4 percent of kickoffs led to touchbacks in 2010; last year it was 43.5 percent. The NFL found that players suffered 40 percent fewer concussions on kickoffs in 2011, McKay told ESPN The Magazine.
“I see where they are coming from as far as trying to look for different ways to make the sport a little safer,” Chicago Bears punter Adam Podlesh said Thursday. “Do I think that is going to make it safer or are kickoffs the worst part of the game right now? I would be skeptical on that right now, especially considering they moved it up to the 35-yard line and you see so many fewer returns now.
“You take a look at the touchback percentages now and that’s gone up so much and they got rid of the three-man plus wedge and leaving it to a tandem of two guys that can only come together. Maybe doing something with that or even eliminating the two-man tandem might help a little more.”
Schiano’s plan, however, would eliminate kickoffs altogether. Goodell admitted to Time magazine that the proposal is “an off-the-wall idea.”
“It’s different and makes you think differently. It did me,” Goodell said.
Podlesh said such an approach, if enacted, would increase the value of punters.
“Every time you have a score you are basically going to have a punt now, so the amounts of plays a punter is in goes up, and therefore they are more valuable,” he said. “Kickoff specialists would essentially be extinct now and field goal kickers would just be field goal kickers and I think that would lower the value to them, too. It would definitely stress have a punter that is very, very good and consistent considering you are going to have more punts.”
Information from ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Jones, ESPNChicago.com’s Jeff Dickerson and The Associated Press was used in this report.