Eliminating kickoffs in the NFL like changing speed limits?

Last week there were reports that the NFL Competition Committee had considering the elimination of kickoffs all together.  This past season the Committee agreed to move kickoffs up to the 35 yard line in an attempt to reduce the number of returns.  This is all in reaction to the increased emphasis and concern of the rate and effects of concussion on NFL players.

From the Competition Committee

New York Giants co-owner John Mara, a sitting member of the Competition Committee, was quoted as follows;

“We had a lot of discussions about whether we should eliminate it and if we did what we could do in its place.  There’s no consensus on it right now, but I could see the day in the future where that play could be taken out of the game.

You see it evolving toward that.  Nobody would go that far now, but we talk about different blocks that we can outlaw.  The problem is that the concussions come from everywhere, from the wedge, from the crossing blocks where a guy goes from one side of the field to another, from a full speed collision between a return guy and a tackler.  So there’s no one thing that you can do.  It’s something that we’ll continue to watch as closely as possible.”

Mr. Mara referenced the kickoff as the “most dangerous play in our game” and further sites that the rule change of moving the spot of the kickoff up “reduced the number of concussions by 40%”.

Pertaining to player safety

With player safety (as it relates to concussions) a major point of emphasis within both the League Office and NFLPA, it’s understandable that the Competition Committee has been tasked with finding ways to help both reduce and prevent violent head injuries.  As you begin to dissect the game, there are only so many places you can go to attempt to accomplish that mission.  Striking and or leading with the helmet is intuitively obvious in identifying immediate causes.  As you go further in the problem solving process, it also makes sense to zero in on the situations that help create the circumstances that lead to such injuries.

The Game

But consider this.  Late in the fourth quarter, San Francisco returner LaMichael James ran back the New England kickoff 62 yards to the Patriot 38.  Tom Brady had just tied the score at 31 with an 8 play drive capped off by Danny Woodhead’s one yard score.  This after being down 31-3 with 6:04 left in the 3rd quarter.  The ensuing play by the 49ers resulted in a Colin Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree touchdown pass.  Just like that the Patriots fell out of the #2 seed in the AFC and the 2012 playoff dynamics totally changed on a 10 second play.  The entire season just may have pivoted on James’ 62 yard return.

Risk vs Reward

We all know that professional football is a physically demanding sport.  This violent nature brings both the challenges and risk that draw so many of us to it (on and off the field).  In Pop Warner, Junior High, and High School, the game serves as both a conduit for teaching character and team building, as well as serving as a recreational and physical education requirement.  As players enter into the college ranks, football shifts towards an entertainment & business role that runs parallel with opportunities for academic scholarships.  The risk vs reward paradigm comes into play, and individual choices have to be made.

The professional level takes that a step further.  Compensation is as lucrative as there is in any sector of the private workplace.  Players understand and are made fully aware of the potentials for life altering injuries.  Precautions are taken to do the very best to protect players from these debilitating and career ending occurrences.  Emphasized techniques in play, improved technologies in equipment, enhanced medical & training methods, along with rule changes have all made football a safer sport.

But at what point do we legislate the game “out of” the game?  What and or who are we actually trying to protect?

When is too much?

Hundreds of thousands of fans flock to racetracks around the country to live the thrills of NASCAR.  Drivers are highly skilled, tracks have been engineered for peak performance, cars and safety equipment use the top technologies to ensure the safety of drivers, and yes, even rule changes have made racing a safer sport to participate.  But inherent to NASCAR and any other form of automotive racing is SPEED.  Some regulations have limited speed, but every driver knows that to participate comes the risk of handling and dealing with it.  Speed is the nature of the sport, it’s what draws drivers, fans and the media to it.

Without speed there is no game.  The NFL should be mindful of the speed limits it tries to implement.

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  1. Maybe we can keep the kickoff but instead of tackling the the return guy he can wear flags on his hips and you just grab the flag and the player would be ‘down’.

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