In an interview with Giants.com, owner John Mara, a member of the NFL’s competition committee, says that he can envision a day in the future when NFL games are played without kickoffs. Mara was talking about the changes implemented before last season, where the league returned the kickoff line to the 35 yard line and limited the coverage team to lining up within 5 yards of the kickoff.
Last year, touchbacks rose from 16.4% to 43.4%, while the average yards per return rose to 23.8, the highest since kickoff stats were recorded in 1941. More importantly to the competition committee, as the rule was implemented to reduce reductions, it was viewed as a success.
“One thing we did determine is that by moving the kickoff to the 35 yard-line it reduced the number of returns, but reduced the number of concussions by 40 percent,” Mara said. “So I don’t think you’ll see that rule change. The kickoff is by far the most dangerous play that we have in our game. The hits are pretty violent and they come from all different directions. There are guys running full speed, that’s the problem. That’s why we put the rule in. It shortens the field a little bit and it cuts down the number of returns.”
It is against that backdrop that Mara made his comments that he could envision a scenario where the kickoff is out of the game. Now, this will create a large backlash, I’m sure. The kickoff, while representing a small percentage of game action, holds a symbolic place in the game. We all stand, raise our hands, and start the game with the kickoff. Simply trotting on the field wouldn’t feel the same.
That said, I do think you will continue to see changes. I am getting ready to write about the head litigation and where I think the future of the game is going. What I know is that football will be different in twenty years, in part because of those issues, and in part because, well, football is always different twenty years later. If all that has changed in twenty years is the elimination of the kickoff, then it would be one of the more stable times in football history. I wrote about “real football” and how the game has constantly evolved a couple of years ago. The game played by Walter Camp changed a lot by the early 20th century, and that game change significantly by the early era of the NFL. Those early players barely resembled the stars of the 40′s, while the 1960′s, with unlimited substitution and the demise of two way football, looked different still. Styles, rules, and skills have all changed. Scoring has changed. The kick, in various forms, has always been around, tying the game to its rugby roots. We’ll see if that is something that goes away. My guess is not, but it will, again, look different in twenty years.
[photo via US Presswire]