Join 3,429 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


NFL Thinking of Getting Rid of Kick Offs
December 6, 2012 7:28 PM   Subscribe

The NFL is again thinking of getting rid of kick offs. Recently kickoffs were moved from the 30 to the 35 yard line in an effort to create more touch backs (and thus fewer returns of kicks) and reduce injuries. Now they're considering getting rid of kick offs altogether.

Players don't seem to be a fan of the idea. Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano (of "Rush the kneeling offense because the game isn't over" fame) wants to get rid of kick offs altogether.

You can't blame the rule changes for 100% of the slower return game in today's NFL. The touch back rate of kick offs had basically increased every year from 2001-2010.

The biggest impact will be felt by players like Eric Weems of the Chicago Bears. Officially listed as a receiver, Weems never really had much action on the offensive side of the ball. In his 4 years in Atlanta Weems only had 27 passes thrown to him, with 14 of those coming in one season. Where he makes his living is in the return game.

After having 77 punt returns and 113 kick off returns in 4 years Weems is pretty much nonexistent this season. Part of that is certainly due to being on the same team as Devin Hester, but you also have to consider why Atlanta let him go in the first place. Namely, that the new kick off rules greatly reduced his effectiveness and they couldn't justify using a roster spot on someone whose only job was going to be returning kicks that are only being returned about 50% of the time over the past two seasons. Just for comparison, from 2001-2010 the return rate was never below 80%.

A Few Notes to End On:
- From what I read it seems that the majority of coaches who are in favor of a less violent kick off situation are coaches who have had a player seriously injured on a kick off play.
- Yes, it's a lot of ESPN. Deal with it.
posted by theichibun (84 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
If it needs to be done for safety, do it, but UGHHHHHHH. It's not going to be the same starting a game without a kickoff or having onside kick attempts at the end of the game.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:32 PM on December 6, 2012


You can't get rid of punts. So how much of a difference is this really going to make to overall safety? Are kickoffs that much more violent? In some punting situations theres really no chance of a fake--so its effectively like a kickoff.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:37 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can't get rid of punts.

Why not?
posted by Drinky Die at 7:38 PM on December 6, 2012


Why not?

Because if they get rid of both kickoffs and punts they really will have to rename the sport "hand-egg".
posted by The Tensor at 7:43 PM on December 6, 2012 [47 favorites]


Nah, we still would have field goals.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:47 PM on December 6, 2012


Just merge with hockey or lacrosse already.
posted by boo_radley at 7:47 PM on December 6, 2012


Stupid. Very stupid.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:49 PM on December 6, 2012


This would also eliminate a few jobs for players, which means the players union will raise holy hell and make sure it doesn't happen.
posted by COD at 7:50 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why can't they just get rid of tackling altogether? That's what's causing all the head injuries.
posted by indubitable at 7:50 PM on December 6, 2012


Because nobody would watch it anymore.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:54 PM on December 6, 2012


Are kickoffs that much more violent?

I suspect so because of the physics. [NOT PHYSICIST. NOT PHYSICIST-IST]

On a punt the offensive and defensive lines start from the line of scrimmage and after the punter kicks the ball both lines run downfield from close to the same starting point.

On a kickoff the kicking team has a 10-yard sprinting headstart before they reach where the first line of the receiving team was before the kicker kicked the kickoff in a kicky fashion. Guys on the kicking team could easily encounter blockers or the kick returner with 30 yards of momentum. (It can be scary, and the first time you get blindsided you learn to keep your head on a swivel.)

Why can't they just get rid of tackling altogether? That's what's causing all the head injuries.

Incorrect. A lot of the injuries are caused by the constant collisions on every play between the offensive and defensive lines.
Offensive guard/defensive tackle/special teams.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:54 PM on December 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


maybe get rid of steroids
posted by philip-random at 7:55 PM on December 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Two hand touch! Or just go to flag football. I can see no reason why this wouldn't be a massive massive success.
posted by incessant at 7:56 PM on December 6, 2012


Two hand touch! Or just go to flag football. I can see no reason why this wouldn't be a massive massive success.

There are more collisions than just the player with the ball getting tackled.
posted by stopgap at 7:59 PM on December 6, 2012


On a punt the jammers are on the gunners right at the line, they don't get nearly the running start as they do on a kickoff.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:00 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks, kikaracha and nathancaswell. That does make sense.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:05 PM on December 6, 2012


There are more collisions than just the player with the ball getting tackled.

Oh my goodness you are totally right I didn't realize that my suggestion was so fucking ridiculous for reasons other than tackling is a vital and necessary part of the game thank you so much for pointing that out gosh.
posted by incessant at 8:07 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Rearranging the deck chairs on the concussion-and-brain-injury-and-killing-spree-causing Titanic.
posted by Apropos of Something at 8:07 PM on December 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


If punting is safer than kick-offs, how about configuring kick-offs to look more like punts?
posted by parliboy at 8:10 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's what the Schiano plan does, give the scoring team the option to either punt from deep within their territory or have one play to get a first down, (something akin to an onside kick).
posted by nathancaswell at 8:14 PM on December 6, 2012


Regardless of what happens, in 10 years you won't recognize the NFL. I don't know if it'll involve more rugby-style action or just collapse under the weight of liability and lawsuits, but the current model is unsustainable.
posted by squorch at 8:22 PM on December 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


There's something celebratory about the kickoff to start a game or half; maybe a punt type play would have the same feel. Does somebody have statistics on injury rates during kickoffs? I'm not sure if it's that kickoffs are unusual, and thus injuries are memorable, or if it's an actual thing. Given how many statistics fly around, surely there's some sort of information on this.

I'm not super worried about players losing their jobs; rosters have a fixed size, so if a few special teams guys go, then it makes a little more room for regular backups like Pat Schiller from the other thread today. I suppose it's unfair to the guys who are coming up in college as special teams guys hoping to make the NFL, but that's a small number of players over a few years, so I'm not particularly upset.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:34 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Regardless of what happens, in 10 years you won't recognize the NFL. I don't know if it'll involve more rugby-style action or just collapse under the weight of liability and lawsuits, but the current model is unsustainable.

I think the biggest factor is that we're already seeing parents not letting their kids play football. If that continues the talent pool will dry up, first in high school, then in college, then in the pros.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:44 PM on December 6, 2012


The kickoff play is awesome, but I'd be prepared to let it go if it made a huge difference in player safety; I fear it won't (as kirkaracha points out, it's the OL/DL that suffer the most brain damage in the current league, and it has nothing to do with kickoffs).

Having said that, if we're replacing the kickoff, my favorite alternative is the field position auction. It's designed for use in overtime, but you could really use it in any of the current kickoff situations (you'd still need a special rule for the free kick after a safety, there could be some strategic issues with allowing a team to take a safety and then get the ball back right away). Just think of the endless opportunities for second-guessing your coach's bidding tactics on sports radio.
posted by bbuda at 8:44 PM on December 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think this is a great idea. Now kickoffs are the most predictable part of the game - they're usually touchbacks since they moved up the spot, they're very rarely returned for scores and onsides kicks are nearly impossible to convert.

The new rules would make this a much more exciting and strategic part of the game. There would be more returns in the kicking game and a greater chance to maintain possession on the 4th and 15 conversion - opening up a whole new level of strategy in that part of the game. Plus it helps flex the rosters because teams don't need to keep spots for KOR specialists.
posted by gnutron at 8:48 PM on December 6, 2012


Does somebody have statistics on injury rates during kickoffs?

I know it's a lot of links folks but read the post.

"Kickoffs are particularly hard on brains. In college football, for instance, 1 in 5 injuries during kickoffs is a concussion; during other phases of play, it's 1 out of 14."
posted by nathancaswell at 8:50 PM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


The kickoff is pretty much one of the most exciting moments in a football game. Anything can happen (though, as a Bears fan, it seldom does anymore), but it's also a brutal, horrific extravaganza of the danger inherent in the game that is harder and harder to be a fan of.

I think focusing on Weems is a mistake (though he did catch a pass last week!). There are tons of players, the gunners, the jammers, who make the team almost solely because of their willingness to go all out, all the time, with reckless disregard for their own health. For a lot of those guys, that's the reason their on the team, the reason they collect a check. Atlanta is ahead of the curve in ditching their return specialist, and other teams will likely follow. It will be interesting to see how this reshapes rosters.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:55 PM on December 6, 2012


Ghidorah: "I think focusing on Weems is a mistake (though he did catch a pass last week!)."

Only reason why I singled him out is because I'm an Atlanta fan and knew 1) how valuable he was in returning kicks, 2) how much his value dropped last year, and 3) that that was the primary reason he's not in Atlanta anymore.
posted by theichibun at 9:02 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I always like Joe Paterno's (yes, I know) suggestion to increase player safety, "Get rid of the helmets."

I played in a no-helmets tackle league in college after my Army years. You absolutely do not play with the same body-as-a-weapon mentality when your precious head is exposed. Also you do not have the "tip of the spear" that the helmet affords you. The tackles are far more rugby-like.

Of course, like in rugby, there are broken noses and unsightly bruises. It would also take several years to program helmet culture players at the truly competitive level to play safely. Probably not possible.

Back on tangent, we did play kickoffs as two-hand touch as you can really "blow someone up" with the full running start on a kick off, as any special teams player will tell you. It is an absolute rush to be closing at that speed, but yes, very unsafe.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 9:06 PM on December 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


I know it's a lot of links folks but read the post.

"Kickoffs are particularly hard on brains. In college football, for instance, 1 in 5 injuries during kickoffs is a concussion; during other phases of play, it's 1 out of 14."


Does somebody have statistics on injury rates during kickoffs?

If there were five injuries on kickoffs and 14,000 injuries on other phases of play, for instance, kickoffs are clearly safer than the rest of the game. If injuries are equally likely on kickoffs and other plays, it's not clear from that factoid whether the non-concussion injuries during kickoffs are of similar severity. To take it to a ridiculous extreme, arming both teams with samurai swords on kickoffs would reduce the proportion of injuries that are concussions, but it wouldn't exactly have made the game safer.

Never mind, I found some. Seems kickoffs have relatively similar rates to normal plays-from-scrimmage, maybe a touch higher. (The numbers are before the 40% decline with the new kickoff rules, although it seems that most if not all of that decline is due to increased touchbacks, rather than safer runbacks.)

Seems to me like kickoffs are only slightly more dangerous than the rest of the game, except field goal attempts. Not that I would oppose anything that made the game safer, even a little bit.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:13 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I believe the data on punts is that you actually should always go for the fourth down, but most playbooks don't allow for that.
posted by effugas at 9:14 PM on December 6, 2012


It's not going to take too many more dead football players before the whole sport gets canned. Just pick a baseball team already.
posted by GuyZero at 9:15 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I hate to be constantly linking to this guy, but this is honestly completely my take on the state of football.
posted by phaedon at 10:15 PM on December 6, 2012


" but the current model is unsustainable"

Wut? The NFL makes money hand over first. As long as it makes obscene amounts of money for the owners and slightly less for the players, it will stick around.

Maybe there's a question of moral sustainability, but I'm skeptical. Athletes and sports fans tend to be fatalists. Just yesterday there was a nice FPP about a guy trying to make it in the NFL. To paraphrase, if he could trade having a more perfect body now at the expense of getting cancer in his 40's and dying young, he'd do it.

The whole concussion thing is hella scary, and the NFL is basically the modern, slightly sanitized form of Roman gladiatorial combat (Nike calls their uniforms "Pro Combat" ffs).

But nah, expect to see improvements in helmets, a stricter enforcement of hits to the head or from behind, but removing kick-offs? Never.

I think the real issue is that people are uncomfortable with a profession in which you basically trade your last two or three decades of comfortable existence for millions of dollars and oodles of fame (and, well, pussy basically) at the price of severe brain damage, chronic back pain, and non-working knees. (Cf. doping in cycling and swimming, 'roids in baseball, etc.)

Professional athletes are perfectly fine with this trade-off, and as a spectator, so am I.
posted by bardic at 10:24 PM on December 6, 2012


maybe get rid of steroids

If you tested rigorously for steroids and also either removed helmets/pads (as suggested above) or at least made them much more minimal, my money is that you would see a much more injury-free game. Whether or not the advertisers would allow that is a different question, of course...
posted by Forktine at 10:44 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


[A couple of comment deleted. Rephrasing people's comments to make them sound like monsters isn't a great discussion technique, and personal attacks are not cool. Please stop.]
posted by taz at 11:35 PM on December 6, 2012


Wait, all this time, all these comments, and nobody has mentioned Sarcastaball?

Because that's the first thing that popped into my mind!
posted by hippybear at 11:42 PM on December 6, 2012


Football as we know it, is dying. It will take a little while, but it will eventually die, and good riddance! The cat is out of the bag on brain injury in football. Parents are thinking twice about letting their kids get exposed to a sport that is virtually proven to cause brain and other serious injuries.

Look, when you have nothing but imbecile ex-jocks (with very few exceptions) calling games for the big cable and TV networks, and listen to them rave about "taking that guy's head of" blah blah, bad things are bound to come of it.

Add to that the sheer speed, size and strength (often, aided by drugs) of the modern football player and you have a recipe for disaster. Pro football has become a freak show, run by owners who don't care about their players. Hockey is the same thing, and so is basketball.

Last, all these games have become boring, with everyone waiting for the "hit". Players are lionized for being "tough", etc. etc.

Football can't die fast enough, as far as I'm concerned. Same for hockey and basketball. Yeah, I know, there are so many people who live vicariously through "their team" that I will probably take a few "hits" for what I'm writing, but it has to be said.

There are too many more fun ways to compete that don't offer permanent body and brain damage as a side effect. That's what we should be promoting, instead of the clown show that professional sports has become.
posted by Vibrissae at 12:44 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Vibrassae, I'm not sure entirely what sport you're watching. Football is in something of an offensive renaissance. Passing is up, offenses are more dynamic than in years. Athletic plays are lauded, and players are routinely screened, and suspended when caught, for PEDs. It is a brutal sport, and it does take a gruesome toll on the participants, as do many pursuits. The awareness of concussions is not some sudden new thing. As a matter of fact, several leading announcers, these 'imbecile ex-jocks' as you call them, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, and Darryl Johnston, among others, are players who retired largely in part due to concussions. You don't hear them extolling players for playing when they can't figure out which way is up.

One of the central features of football, and pretty much any sport, is a strong connection to its history and traditions. Anything so deeply rooted in the past is resistant to change. Football is changing. It will take time, like any change does. The fact that, a year after a pretty drastic change (moving the kickoff line), they are seriously talking about changes to the very fabric of the game (and kickoff returns are very much a part of the league's history) is not something to scorn out of hand. Change is coming, while it's obviously not fast enough to suit your needs, from the viewpoint of even a casual fan, it's quite impressive.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:25 AM on December 7, 2012 [13 favorites]


I'm with the people who thinks football has to change or die. Any kind of serious football training causes temporary brain damage that reduces academic ability - it's about the last thing anyone in school should be doing. A lot of people are going to starting pulling their kids out of the game, and looking down on parents who don't. I'm sure some people will keep playing, but it's going to get increasingly marginalized, and that will get much worse once the kids who haven't played it grow up. Unless it changes, it's going to end up as a sport that hardly anyone has done and nobody cares about, and people kind of look down on you if you like it. Think of boxing now vs. in the past (it was on the way out even before MMA appeared).

It's kind of a pity, because I think it's one of the more interesting sports to watch. The different plays and options available for the teams make it a more strategic game than most, and there's a lot of opportunities for crazy things to happen at any given time. It's not worth sacrificing the players over, though.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:27 AM on December 7, 2012


I'd love to see the NFL disappear. Football is one of the most dangerous, most hysterical and overblown modes of popular entertainment ever invented.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 3:36 AM on December 7, 2012


I'd love to see the NFL disappear. Football is one of the most dangerous, most hysterical and overblown modes of popular entertainment ever invented.

Football is a mistake. It combines the two worst elements of American life. Violence and committee meetings.
-- George F. Will
 
posted by Herodios at 4:44 AM on December 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


The NFL should adopt the street football rule we had as kids: On a kickoff, the return man can make a legal forward pass anywhere on the field.
posted by sixpack at 5:54 AM on December 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


I always like Joe Paterno's (yes, I know) suggestion to increase player safety, "Get rid of the helmets."

The reason the helmets came about was that was US Football was known for before the helmets was skull fractures. If you get rid of helmets, you'll need to get ride of all of the pads -- esp. the shoulder pads -- otherwise, you'll be replacing concussions with massive skull trauma.

You'll then need to ban anybody who played in pads, because they've been taught how to hit with them on, and when they try the same move without the pads, they're going to still hit as hard as they can. They've been carefully taught to do so. Hitting that hard is not a natural act, your body would normally pull back, but after years of training in pads, that instinct is gone.

So, if you line up two teams of current players without pads and start a football play, you better have a dozen ambulances on hand -- they'll be hitting hard enough to break their own bodies.
posted by eriko at 6:20 AM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Perhaps we could all start watching cricket instead?
posted by blue_beetle at 6:45 AM on December 7, 2012


Pax Abehammerb Lincoln:

Metafilter: Back on tangent.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:49 AM on December 7, 2012


Here's the most amazing stat....

Since 2001, onside kicks have been recovered 21.4 percent of the time (125 of 583), according to ESPN Stats & Information. During the same period, teams converted fourth-and-15 attempts at a rate of 21.8 percent (17 of 78).

The amazing part is that there were 78 attempts at 4th and 15. I would have thought that would have been closer to a dozen.

I actually like the 4th and 15 at the 30 in concept, but it's going to play out very differently. As of now, the moment the ball is kicked, the kicking team loses possession. So, if the recieving team commits a penalty, it nullifies the return and the penalty is marched off from the spot the ball was caught.* Basically, almost no penalty** results in the kicking team keeping the ball with a first down.

With the 4th and 15, though, this changes dramatically. The team isn't kicking, so they have possession until they fail to get a first down. However, if the defense commits a penalty, it'll be marched off and they get another attempt, or far more likely, the penalty itself will grant a first down. The number of defensive penalties that don't give you a first down is pretty small -- Offside/Encroachment/NZI, Delay of Game, and Illegal Substitution/Too Many Men would give five yards and a replay, but not an automatic first down.

That's a very significant change in the flow of the starting play of the game and after a score, and you're going to see far more attempts at it -- because not only do you keep the ball if you move 15, you at the very least get another shot at 4th and 10 if the defense screws up, and more likely get an automatic first.

Countering that is that if the offense commits a penalty, they could lose the ball right there if they didn't get the first and the defense declines the penalty and gets the turnover on downs.

But it's still a *very* big change.

* That's one reason for the blue marker the refs carry -- to mark change of possession. You can tell the moment a ref has called a ball a fumble when the blue marker comes flying in to mark the spot.

** I can't think of any penalty that does, but I might be wrong. There is the UberFoul -- the Palpably Unfair Act, where the Referee can basically set the result of the play as he sees fits, so I could see a situation where a team onside kicks, is about to recover, and a player on the bench comes onto the field and boots it away. The ref would then declare Palpably Unfair Act and award the ball to the kicking team at the spot of the foul, as if the act had not happened and they recovered the ball.

PUA is so widely constructed that the referee can actually award a score, or even forfeit the game to the fouled team. The classic PUA is a breakaway runner with an easy shot at the endzone being tackled from a player off the bench. Such a play results in a touchdown for the fouled team.

But a PUA isn't considered a penalty -- it's something beyond a penalty.
posted by eriko at 6:54 AM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


WTF? Get rid of kick offs?

No.

Just no.

And they should also let the linemen carry big hammers.
posted by mule98J at 7:02 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Those stats are misleading. Surprise onside kicks are recovered at something approaching a 55% rate. Expected onside kicks are very rarely recovered. It's not a wash. At the end of a game I'd take a 4th and 15 over an expected onside kick any day of the week and twice on Sundays (see what I did there?).
posted by nathancaswell at 7:03 AM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is a little like the Romans trying to tweak gladiator games by having the players use nerf tridents. If we're no longer the kind of society that gets jiggy watching three-hundred-pound men smashing their brainpans into one another, then just shut the motherfucker down and come up with a new game.
posted by steambadger at 7:04 AM on December 7, 2012


Preface: I believe everything should be done by the NFL players association and owners to minimize risk to players via equipment, training, and tactics.

That said, ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?

Parents are responsible for knowing the risks when they allow their children/teens to play football. College students(?) know the risks when they play the game. And by god, NFL players reaping damn good paychecks know the risks every time they step onto field.

Virtually no one plays football from childhood to pro because its the only option they have in life. They choose to do it for love of the game and rewards their performance affords them.

A cop doesn't have to be a cop. Yet they go into the field knowing the risks. Roughnecks don't have to work oil rigs. Yet they go into the field knowing the risks. And if you want to get into the self-preservation argument... Dentists (highest suicide rate) don't have to be dentists. Yet there are plenty of them to go around.

Player safety is an issue. It should be taken seriously. But changing the fundamental nature of the game because it results in a high percentage of risk to health will do far more harm to the players, owners, league, fans and game than it will help.
posted by highwayman at 7:17 AM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I do think it would be kind of awesome to see all the packages and plays coaches came up with that were designed to gain 15 yards though. Like little mini hook and laterals and shit.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:18 AM on December 7, 2012


The amazing part is that there were 78 attempts at 4th and 15. I would have thought that would have been closer to a dozen.

Desperate teams who had to throw to win and committed holding on one of the downs.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:23 AM on December 7, 2012


Sports that allow hits to the head... Not the best idea. Rugby has this right -- it is illegal to hit another player. Contact must be made with a tackling motion / wrapping arms around them. That sort of thing.

And basically no one thinks that rugby payers are "soft", do they?
posted by andreaazure at 7:34 AM on December 7, 2012


Desperate teams who had to throw to win and committed holding on one of the downs.

More likely false start -- holding would have left you needing 20 yards, not 15.

I'm not surprised that it happened, I'm a little surprised that it happened 78 times -- as I said, I would have expected a shot at 4-15 or longer to happen maybe a dozen times a decade, not over six times as many times.

I'm not surprised that they converted 21% of the time -- a 4-15 implies a long throw, and all you need is a penalty to get the first, and if you're sending four wideouts down, that's four chances for illegal contact/holding/pass interference, any of which is going to net you the first.
posted by eriko at 7:46 AM on December 7, 2012


Yeah, mean false start. A dozen attempts a decade seems crazy infrequent to me. I mean there has been a 4th and 26 and a 4th and 29 that were both converted in the last decade.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:51 AM on December 7, 2012


The idea that we would ban football, hockey or basketball (seriously???) for being too dangerous when we sanction auto racing, MMA, and professional boxing is ludicrous. The NFL absolutely needs to make significant changes to improve long-term player health and safety, but let's try to keep some perspective here.

Getting rid of kickoffs isn't going to reduce the impact of the routine hits in a football that contribute to long-term brain damage. People always focus on the big hits, but it's not always the big helmet-to-helmet hits that cause health problems.

I would like to see a move toward less head and body protection. Maybe not the old leather helmets, but something that would keep players from using their head as a weapon, and much thinner pads, not the body armor players wear now. It would be disruptive to the sport as we know it, and would probably take a decade to phase in from the midget leagues up through high school and into college, but it could go a long way to improving safety, and perhaps making a more entertaining product as well.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:59 AM on December 7, 2012


The players have a point about how playing on special teams can give someone a shot they wouldn't normally have. Steve Smith, the standout and kind of insane wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers, returned kicks his rookie year. He scored two TDs and the next season was given a shot at starting. He is putting together a hall of fame career.

Still, kickoffs have the highest rate of serious injury of any play. The only real solution to football's problems is to not have football. Would it be so bad if we had a professional touch football league? Would football then just move to eastern Europe and we'd all watch it illegally online?
posted by zzazazz at 8:28 AM on December 7, 2012


Getting rid of kickoffs isn't going to reduce the impact of the routine hits in a football that contribute to long-term brain damage. People always focus on the big hits, but it's not always the big helmet-to-helmet hits that cause health problems.

I haven't done anything remotely close to comprehensive study of this, but it feels like the CTE-affected tragedies of the last couple years (Junior Seau, Chris Henry, Dave Duerson, possibly Jovan Belcher, etc.) have mostly been starters and not not gunners or guys who are spending a lot of time on the kickoff team. They keep changing the kickoff rules and leaving everything else the same as if that's the main culprit in the concussion crisis.

Don't get me wrong, kickoffs obviously lead to a ton of injuries, but I'm not convinced that they're the same sorts of traumatic brain injuries that are causing the horrific rash of suicides by former players.
posted by Copronymus at 8:37 AM on December 7, 2012


Good point, you think Wes Welker would have been given a shot as an undrafted 5' 9" 185lb slow "lunchpail" (read: white) receiver if he didn't return kicks?
posted by nathancaswell at 8:40 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dear NFL: Please don't do this. It's the only part of the game us Cleveland fans can enjoy.
posted by slogger at 8:40 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


In terms of getting rid of helmets, the reason why we have them is because of the early 1900s being essentially a killing field for college football players. Nineteen died in 1905, and that was with just a handful of teams. You'd routinely see smashed skulls and ribs broken to pierce hearts. There's a bigger difference between rugby and football than just no pads and helmets.
posted by klangklangston at 8:57 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, football is a series of set pieces, where rugby is more fluid. These constant set pieces set up constant heavy collisions and also allow players to rest, and perhaps even more importantly, allow frequent substitutions for fresh legs.

So in football, you'll have big strong, relatively rested guys with fresh legs charging at each other across the line of scrimmage; you have forward passing as well, which exposes defensive backs and receivers to horrendous collisions. Rugby has a lot more chasing along a fluid and shifting line, and far fewer chances (though there still are chances) to collide with someone at full speed.
posted by Mister_A at 9:06 AM on December 7, 2012


(Junior Seau, Chris Henry, Dave Duerson, possibly Jovan Belcher, etc.) have mostly been starters and not not gunners or guys who are spending a lot of time on the kickoff team.

Indeed. And the idea that it's the lineman doesn't hold up. Seau and Belcher were linebackers, Henry was a WR, Duerson was a safety. Others you didn't mention -- Ray Easterling was a saftey in the 1970s, Kurt Crain was a linebacker in the late 80s.

The thing that stands out is that all were starters, playing most of the reps, and all have become speed positions. Indeed, I can see why wideouts are at risk, they frequently take hits at speed after a long runup.
posted by eriko at 9:07 AM on December 7, 2012


I just did some searches -- it seems that the players most likely to be severely concussed are wide recivers, running backs, linebackers and safeties/corners. In general, the backs, both on offense and defense, are much more likely to be hurt this way.

This actually makes sense to me. Lineman only get a step or two before they hit another lineman. Backs tend to get tackled on the run and/or by someone running up on them.
posted by eriko at 9:15 AM on December 7, 2012


I know I'm in the minority here, but I like this idea. The chances for all hell to break loose at the end of games is great. Suppose a team just scored to take a lead with 45 seconds left. Then the punt gets blocked. Or the return man muffs the catch. Or you're down by two scores, and you get a TD to bring you within one.

Someone on Fark suggested this to eliminate kickoffs - after a score, you get one play from the 50 yard line. Whatever yardage you gain is where the other team starts their drive. You do have the chance to score a TD (or if you're nuts, attempt a long FG.) If you decide to try a bomb to the end zone and it's incomplete, you just gave up great field position. A QB who has mastered the art of the quick kick would be invaluable here.

The simple fact is that the game is going to change. And when it does, most fans are not going to give up watching. Because if they don't change, the game will begin to fade. Parents are getting wary about their kids playing football (if you don't believe that, the NFL is running ads trying to convince parents that the sports is safe for their kids) and as baseball has shown, no sport is too big to fall from popularity. The NFL knows this and they're looking 20 years down the road.
posted by azpenguin at 9:19 AM on December 7, 2012


Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano (of "Rush the kneeling offense because the game isn't over" fame)

The kerfuffle that followed the kneel down blitz at the Bucs-Giants game is a perfect example of why I think sports are stupid. "Have courtesy! Show some respect!", the fans and players cried. The job of a football team is to score points while preventing the other team from scoring, and that job description does not include giving up a chance to get possession of the ball.

At least that complaint is not as stupid as my favorite, "running up the score". Defend and maybe the score won't get run up. The Packers lodged this complaint against the Cowboys for winning a 1996 game 21-6, all Cowboy points scored on seven field goals. This only happened because Green Bay let Dallas get in field goal range seven times.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:25 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I could possibly entertain the thought of this 4th-and-15 "punt-off" if the starting point was further up the field, like say at the kicking team's own 45-yard line. That way if there's a failed conversion the other team doesn't have the ball already within scoring distance. And it basically puts either team around the same place they'd be with an onside kick attempt.

In regards to certain players losing their shot at the professional league, I think there would still be a need for a decent return specialist. After all, someone has to be down there receiving the punt. This would also dramatically heighten the need for a good long-snapper and punter; nothing like sailing the ball over the punter's head to make it easy for the defense.
posted by CancerMan at 9:58 AM on December 7, 2012


klangklangston: "You'd routinely see smashed skulls and ribs broken to pierce hearts"

Yeah, and that's why I said they should reduce but not eliminate helmets and pads. Make it punishing for both sides of the hit rather than just the guy who's caught blindsided by it and the speed of the collisions goes down.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:46 AM on December 7, 2012


Yes, they should completely take the "foot" out of "football". Hell, they don't even have a ball, they have an egg. That's right, it's really "handegg". (Previously)
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:50 AM on December 7, 2012


Football Outsiders just ran a column on what the Schiano rule change would look like in practice. I'm going to go ahead and link to it without even reading it because FO is that fucking awesome.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:57 AM on December 7, 2012


Why The NFL's "Concussion Crisis" Isn't Really A Concussion Crisis
posted by Chrysostom at 12:46 PM on December 7, 2012


A friend of mine is involved in studies of high school football players and concussions. They attached sensors to the helmets and tracked the lineman over a season. Even though none of them suffered a concussion during the season, they all showed declines in cognitive ability in end of season testing. The good news for the high school kids is that their brains recovered to normal after a few weeks of rest. However, it seems reasonable that the older you get, the less you recover.

They are currently struggling to get funding to continue testing.
posted by COD at 12:58 PM on December 7, 2012


COD: "They are currently struggling to get funding to continue testing."

If only there were a major football league with a metric assload of cash and a lot to lose financially if this problem gets worse. Part of me wonders if they already know what the studies will find, and just want to delay the inevitable.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:22 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some further interesting quotes from Schiano that I read in this PFT article:

“This is just something that I dreamed up and as I said to [Goodell] I am not sure that all the details are there,” Schiano added. “You got to find the percentage. I think the percentage of an onside kick is about 15 percent. So you want to make sure that whatever that fourth-and-blank is, it is about 15 percent over a bunch of years. And that would be the ideal amount of yardage needed. So at least you have an onside kind of equivalent percentage wise. I think you can have a lot of exciting stuff. You open the game with a blocked punt or you open a game with – who knows what could happen, right?”

“I understand traditionalists don’t agree, but there used to not be the forward pass too,” Schiano said. “The game would be pretty boring without it. I am not saying it is right or wrong. I am just saying you got to be able to think outside and whatever is best for the players. At the end of the day, these guys are the ones that are putting it on the line. It is not the coaches. It is none of us. It is the players that bodies go; it is a violent game and that’s one of the things I love about it is the physical part of it. There are areas that are more susceptible to injury.

“One of the things that when I was researching I think it was like in the kickoff rules 17 percent of the catastrophic in juries happened on kickoffs. Yet it is only about six percent of the plays in the game. Well that’s disproportionate right? Things like that are reasons that led me to that, but obviously it is a personal thing with me because of Eric LeGrand.”

posted by nathancaswell at 2:53 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is fascinating that Schiano is as outspoken as he is. He became infamous for his attacking the victory formation which was argued against with "you might injure a player on a meaningless play." Yet here he is pointing out the injury risk on kickoffs. Seems he is driving hard against traditionalists.
posted by M Edward at 3:32 PM on December 7, 2012


It gets even more fascinating... "Schiano was almost universally viewed as unaccommodating, intimidating and downright disrespectful by NFL representatives who paid visits to Rutgers from 2001-11... In conversations with nearly a dozen NFL general managers, personnel executives, scouts and coaches familiar with Schiano's time at Rutgers, I detected an almost unprecedented degree of resentment and disdain for a man who has yet to coach his third professional game."
posted by nathancaswell at 3:39 PM on December 7, 2012


(to be clear that article appeared well before the proposed kickoff rule)
posted by nathancaswell at 3:41 PM on December 7, 2012


If only there were a major football league with a metric assload of cash and a lot to lose financially if this problem gets worse.

The NFL and equipment makers have zero interest in funding them. The NIH told them they don't have money to fund studies of voluntary activities when simply not participating solves the problem.
posted by COD at 4:52 PM on December 7, 2012


Mr. Steven Jay Tasker.
posted by newdaddy at 7:08 PM on December 7, 2012


Since some people brought up rugby here's a gruesome anecdote for you:

I played rugby in college (second-row, natch) and one Saturday we (small midwestern lib arts college) were kind of terrified because the University of Cincinatti law school was coming in for a match. First of all, these guys were all three to seven years older (I was only 19 at the time). Second, they had a ringer -- a former Notre Dame third string running back was on their squad. (Kenyon is a small school, so third strong ND? That's hardcore.)

Anyhow, we were expecting to get beat pretty bad but hey, we brought an extra keg along for the after party.

So about five minutes in, it's obvious that their whole game plan is based around giving Mr. Fighting Irish the ball as much as possible.

But here's where a guy brought up in football culture absolutely couldn't adjust to the fact that rugby it a totally different game, as different as basketball or baseball.

First off, you don't block for other people in rugby. In fact, it's illegal (offsides). So the equivalent of the "100 Yard Run" can happen, but it's extremely rare and if you try to mimic it you'll get killed.

Second, as mentioned, you tackle in rugby, you don't launch your body head-and-shoulder first into somebody. Because obviously you don't have pads or a helmet, and second it's bad rugby. You want to tackle/pull the opposing player to the ground and get a scrum going (opposing teams push one another for control of the ball).

Long story short, within minutes we had to call for an ambulance because this guy (his second game apparently) launched himself jaw first at our ball-carrier and pretty much crushed in to who bottom part of his head. His athleticism -- speed and strength -- matched with his "football" thinking led to the most gruesome injury I've ever seen.

So yeah, tl;dr:

Not only are football and rugby incredibly different, but if you grow up playing one don't try to transition to the other lest you want to eat through a straw for a few months.
posted by bardic at 8:23 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's working out for Nate Ebner, rocking the dope old school neck roll.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:31 PM on December 7, 2012


Oh hay I'm faster than all you.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:42 PM on December 7, 2012


A token kickoff designed never to be returned, but with a dozen useless blocks in between, would be an example of a risky return getting only slightly less risky by eliminating the return altogether. They should move the ball back to the 25 to kick, not forward to the 35, and give the kicking team the option to kick, or else the receiving team can begin play at the 25. There would be no kickoff at that distance without an onside attempt. It would be a shame to lose the onside for the big win, but I guess that's the point of the 4th and 15 situation proposed, which could be added as yet another option in a desperate situation.
posted by Brian B. at 6:11 PM on December 11, 2012


« Older Researchers found that the pattern of murder in Ne...  |  The European Commission is res... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments