Friday, April 8, 2011

What's the Point: Kickoffs and Hypocrisy in the NFL

One of the most exhilarating plays in the game of football is the kickoff. There is nothing more amazing then watching a player break a kickoff for a touchdown. One of the most exciting plays in NFL history was when Devin Hester ran the opening kickoff back in Super Bowl XLI for a touchdown to start the game. I can still feel the adrenaline rush as i watch the play on youtube for the 50th time. Due to recent rule changes, however, the NFL is moving kickoffs up to 35 yard line from the 30.

The result of moving the kickoffs up five yards is that many more touchbacks will occur on kickoffs. The NFL says touchbacks could increase by 15% over last season with the new rules. This means that less kicks will be run out of the end zone. It also means that kick returners will start farther back, and consequently, less kicks will be returned for touchdowns. Before the NFL moved kickoffs back to the 30 from the 35 in recent years, .29% of kicks came back for touchdowns. This number shot up to .49% when they moved the spot to the 30. So, when they return the ball back to its original spot at the 35, the .29% number should return. Returns for touchdowns will be cut by nearly half!

This new rule partially neutralizes the effect of the top returners in the game such as Joshua Cribbs and Devin Hester, who have both come out against the move.
The rule does not just partly diminish the role of elite returners, it also somewhat neutralizes the effect of special teams. Deep clubs usually have good special teams, since most of the players on special teams consist of the back half of NFL rosters. Under the new rule, special teams become less of a factor, as does the depth of a team. Many teams rely on their special teams to give them good field position. If a unit has a decent kicker, they will be able to kick it to the back of the end zone most times, and not have to worry about covering kicks. Devin Hester put it best in a recent interview: "to be honest they might as well put up the arena nets, man, cause it's going to be a lot of balls going in the endzone, man."

Over and over, the NFL has stated that the move to the 35 yard line is about player safety. It is true that the kickoff is one of the most dangerous plays in the game. But, how can the NFL say they are concerned about player safety when they want to move to an 18 game season, which will increase overall injuries to players, thereby putting player safety in jeopardy? The hypocrisy of the league shines through here. They supposedly care about concussions and injuries on kickoffs, but at the same time want to add two more regular season games to put players in these dangerous situations more often! The league is dulling the most exciting play of the game in an attempt to make a few extra bucks.

It will be a common sight next year: An elite returner stomps his foot in frustration as the ball flies over his head, as the fans wonder when their favorite athlete is going to get a chance to make magic once again. The players and fans are united in wanting more kick returns, while the league alters the game so more money flows into their coffers. And people wonder why there is a lockout.

What's the Point is a weekly column written by David Straple. Feel free to comment.

1 comment:

Eric McGann said...

It's ridiculous. The NFL is trying to justify an 18 game schedule by making these small things changes to enhance player safety to make it seem like they care. It's so disappointing. In Chicago, when there is a kickoff or a punt, there is a buzz in the stadium unlike anything else because Devin Hester can change the game at any given moment. It's unfortunate that these exciting moments will be cut by at least half

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