NFL will consider ending kickoffs

  • ESPN.com news services | December 6, 2012

Commissioner Roger Goodell said Thursday the NFL's competition committee would consider in the offseason replacing the kickoff. The league previously had moved the kickoff from the 30- to 35-yard line to cut down on violent collisions.

Goodell and Rich McKay, the head of the league's competition committee, 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 it 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 magazine.

Speaking about the potential change before Thursday night's Raiders-Broncos game in Oakland, Calif., the commissioner said, "I thought it was an interesting idea. The committee will look at it."

Schiano discussed his idea earlier this 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 eventually would be eliminated from pro football.

"I believe that day will come," he said. "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.

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.

Bears kicker Robbie Gould said the proposed changes would impact teams' strategies.

"You're talking about starting off a game with a punt, not that there is anything bad about that, but if you have a strategy in getting the ball because you have a really good kick return team, now you are taking that out of the equation," Gould said. "You're talking about a whole different type of football game. You're talking about returners meaning more and less, punters are going to mean more and less, kickers are going to mean more and less.

"So the value of a player is going to go down drastically and the overall game will decrease if they change the kickoff rule to what they are thinking of."

Information from ESPN The Magazine's Chris Jones, ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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