The idea of eliminating kickoffs has been batted around for a while now as a way to reduce head injuries, and now college football coaches and administrators apparently are giving the idea some serious thought. So says Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com, who writes Monday that both the American Football Coaches Association’s board of trustees and the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee “have at least had informal talks about the possibility.”
Rogers Redding, the secretary of the NCAA rules committee, told Dodd that his group has not talked about eliminating kickoffs and that any change wouldn’t happen until at least after the 2017 season. But the rules committee often gets guidance from the AFCA, and the oversight committee has to vet any rule changes before they receive rules committee approval.
AFCA executive director Todd Berry, most recently the head coach at Louisiana-Monroe, told Dodd that his group is examining data about the impact of kickoffs on head injuries and that it looks as if there indeed is a higher incidence of head injuries during such plays.
“I’m excited we’re starting to have this discussion,” Berry told Dodd. “It looks like the data is skewed where we have more injuries on that play. If that’s the case, we have to look at eliminating the play, modifying the play, change blocking schemes.”
Both the NFL and the NCAA moved kickoffs to the 35-yard line to increase the number of touchbacks, and in March the NFL approved a one-year experimental rule change that gives the receiving team the ball at the 25-yard line for all touchbacks, a move that officials hope will incentivize end-zone kneel-downs. However, critics of the change say that coaches simply will instruct kickers to deliberately not reach the end zone on kickoffs, creating the need for a return.
“We’re going to wait to see what happens. I think preseason, historically, has not been a good indicator, especially on special teams and kickoffs, because most teams will want to see their coverage teams, their kick-return teams, so they’ll kick the ball short of the goal line,” NFL director of officiating Dean Blandino told the Toronto Sun’s John Kryk in an interview last weekend. “They’re trying to evaluate players. So we won’t use the pre-season as a gauge in those areas. We’ll wait and see how the regular season plays out. We have certainly talked to the special teams coaches, and there are some who say they’ll kick the ball into the field of play, and then there are others who say whereas they might have taken it out before, now they’ll keep it in the end zone because they’re getting the additional five yards on the touchback. It’s a one-year change, so we have that ability to look at it this year, and make adjustments beyond 2016 if needed.”
Pop Warner football eliminated kickoffs for all youth teams 10 and under in May.
Not everyone is on board. For one, kickoffs are the only way for a number of college players to make their marks on special teams, especially a team’s younger players who otherwise wouldn’t see the field. For another, alternatives to kickoffs haven’t garnered much support. One plan, originated by former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano and espoused by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at one point, would be for the scoring team to get the ball at its own 30 following a touchdown or field goal. That team could either punt the ball away or go for it in a fourth-and-15 situation.