(Time magazine)

A proposal to eliminate kickoffs?

The idea was discussed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, according to a Time magazine cover story that looks at his upbringing, his pedigree for the job and the stamp he is leaving on the game six years into stewardship.

“Kickoffs, for instance, could get the boot,” Sean Gregory writes, “even though the kicker placing the ball on the tee, the dash-and-crash downfield under the kick and the theatrical returns for touchdowns are a signal that Sunday is underway.”

In a recent meeting with Rich McKay, the Atlanta Falcons’ president and CEO who is the head of the league’s competition committee, Goodell mentioned an idea from Tampa Bay Buccaneers Coach Greg Schiano about that very thing. Gregory writes: 

….after a touchdown or field goal, instead of kicking off, a team would get the ball on its own 30-yard line, where it’s fourth-and-15. The options are either to go for it and try to retain possession, or punt. If you go for it and fall short, the opposing team would take over with good field position. In essence, punts would replace kickoffs, and punts are less susceptible to violent collisions than kickoffs.

Punts have lower injury rates and, Goodell notes, “The fact is it’s a much different end of the play. … It’s an off-the-wall idea. It’s different and makes you think differently. It did me.”

Schiano, who is in his first season as Bucs’ coach, was the Rutgers coach when Eric LeGrand was paralyzed on a kickoff in October 2010. Schiano has not forgotten his former player, signing him to an honorary Bucs contract.

Schiano, in an ESPN magazine interview in September said he believes kickoffs would eventually go the way of the leather helmet. “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 changed the kickoff rule before last season, moving the tee from the 30-yard line to the 35 and requiring that the coverage unit start within 5 yards of the ball. McKay told ESPN magazine that there were 40 percent fewer concussions.

Goodell is right about one thing. It’s an intriguing idea. And it’s guaranteed to be extremely unpopular. Is eliminating kickoffs really possible? Aren’t there other ways to make kickoffs safer? 

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