Some honest to god sport related NFL news penetrated the CBA storm yesterday, but of course as with all other news recently, it’s quite disappointing. Yesterday the Competition Committee recommended major changes to kickoffs, moving the kickoff back to the 35-yard line instead of the 30, and giving the receiving team the ball at the 25-yard line, instead of the 20, if there’s a touchback. Basically, the league wants less kick returns because it’s the most dangerous play in the game. It’s also one of the most exciting plays in the game.
Over the last two seasons there has been a renewed emphasis on protecting players’ safety. It’s an initiative that the league should be applauded for, but at what point should we begin to question if they are becoming too cautious? At what point does it begin to damage the product on the field? After a weekend last October with an extra ordinary number of hard hits, Goodell unilaterally decided to start levying fines on such hits. While good in theory, the randomness and indiscriminate way the hits and players were fined made the whole exercise cause more harm than good to the game in the eyes of some players and fans.
The proposed change to the kickoff rule really worries me because I see the obvious next steps. Eventually, they will completely abolish the kickoff and start off possessions with the receiving team getting the ball on their own 25. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens by the end of this decade. They’ve been slowly softening the kickoff rules over the last few years, and this is the biggest move to date. Just look at what happened to the wedge.
Now don’t get me wrong, I do care about the players’ safety and don’t want to see them get hurt (No matter what Brian Mitchell may think.) But if the NFL was really serious about tackling player safety, why aren’t they mandating the players wear better helmets? The increase in concussions recently is astounding, yet there are helmets being produced that have been statistically proven to lessen concussions then the ones they wear. But the NFL doesn’t force the players to upgrade their helmets.
There’s got to be more room for improvement for the safety of the players in all of their equipment, instead of messing with the fundamentals of the game. They have big time sponsors paying mega-bucks to the league for shoe and equipment rights. The NFL should be demanding as part of the deals that they continuously work on improving the padding and helmets for the players. (That may already be part of the deals. I honestly don’t know.)
However, it is interesting with the labor negotiations, the only time I hear the players or owners bring up safety concerns is in regards to the 18-game schedule (sorry, couldn’t make it through a whole column without mentioning the lockout.) If player safety is such an important issue to both sides that they are willing to change the game, how about some mandates for better safer helmets? It’s clear that some players don’t want to wear them because they look ridiculous. If the league’s going to fine players five grand for not wearing the right socks, then they should wield the same hammer when it comes to helmets and other new safety equipment.
The Couch is a slippery slope guy, yet I also tend to hate it when others use that argument (I know, hypocrite. Big surprise.) This kickoff rule change really scares me. Who knows what else is to come. No one likes the “in the grasp” rule for quarterbacks. Are we going to start seeing that for running back and receivers next? Could unnecessary roughness be increased to a 20 yard penalty and automatic ejection? Are punts only going to be fair caught? I know these ideas sound crazy, but if you told me a week ago that they were moving the kickoff and touchback forward, I would have told you that you were crazy.