Tag Archives: kickoff

Eliminating Kickoffs from Football Would Be Beyond Stupid

Every year around this time, I get pretty excited for college football to begin. I usually search YouTube endlessly, trying to find the perfect compilation of hard hits and highlights to satiate my hunger. It doesn’t take long before I settle onto a video, or two, or three and become lost in a sea of tackling carnage.

As a former player, this gets me seriously hyped. The feeling of laying the perfect hit on someone (not injuring them, of course) is indescribable. It’s a precise mix of timing, force, and just the right amount of aggression to send a message that I’ve come to play.  I’m putting the crowd and the opposing team on notice that I’m not one to be trifled with.

I say this because these are the types of elements that make football as unique and addictive as it is. On the flip side, for every highlight reel tackle, there are unfortunate incidents where players are severely injured and on the rarest of occasions, players lose their lives.

All that said, there’s a serious hot button issue circulating around all levels of football concerning the overall safety and necessity of kickoffs. As we know, football itself is undergoing a massive overhaul in the realm of player safety. And to a larger degree, it’s the financial bottom line of these changes that can and will impact the game. The latter is a conversation for another time. For now, let’s narrow our focus on whether kickoffs are actually necessary.

I cannot imagine the game without the kickoff. It’s the moment in time where my adrenaline was at its highest. From the stare down with the opposing special teams unit to the roar of the crowd anxiously waiting to set things off. It was where you sized up your blocking or coverage assignment, determined your plan of attack, and ultimately “laid a hat” on someone.

I played football in a time that’s much different than what I witness now. The players are, by and large, the same but the mentality of the game is different. Due to the game’s massive popularity and subsequent financial viability, other interests have crept into the fold. I digress. That’s another story for another time.

I am going to look at this subject with as much of an unbiased eye as possible. I am all for player safety. The intent of the game is not to deliberately injure one another. However, it is a game of controlled aggression, intimidation, physicality, will-bending, and dominance. The key word being controlled.

With those parameters in place as a cornerstone mentality to be effective in the game of football, it seems a little incongruent to now scale back that approach in the name of “safety.” So it’s “safe” to say that I am not in favor of removing kickoffs from the game. However, I am open to understanding the argument from a different perspective, if possible.

The Impact of Removing the Kickoff from the Game

Admittedly so, from a physical perspective, the kickoff is the most intense and physically vulnerable a player can and will be of the three phases of the game. Depending on your team, (kickoff or return) you are exposed to the most amount of physical contact in any given amount of time.

On the kickoff team, your job is to sprint 60 or so yards, while maintaining proper lane coverage and tackle the returner. Now, before you get remotely close, you must bust through the return wall and seek out the ball carrier. And by bust I mean literally run smack dab into another human being at top speed, hoping to weaken the wall set up to protect the returner. Depending on your size and the speed at which you cover ground, this can be a tremendous impact. Think of it like charging soldiers in war time. Once they clash, it can be a disorienting experience.

On kickoff coverage, at top, straight-line speed, it’s extremely difficult to change direction on a dime. Few are blessed to do so. For the others that are not, those players are exposed to serious injury to their lower extremities with every kickoff.

Usually, you’re coached to establish lane coverage as quickly as possible (that’s where the sprinting comes in) and once you’ve reached the return team, breakdown (slow down, widen your stance to gain balance, center yourself and prepare to take on a blocker or tackle the returner). Now keep in mind, the blockers for the return team are charging you and high speeds as well. So if you break down too early, you’re liable to get obliterated. In the end, it just becomes a demolition derby with bodies flying everywhere.

By eliminating the kickoff, there will be less direct collisions between players at high speeds and awkward angles. Also, blindside blocks, blocks in the back, and helmet-to-helmet hits will be lessened. Not eliminated, but lessened.

According to a study by the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, 16% of injuries occur during kickoffs. Although the percentage is low, they are finding that those injuries are the most severe. In May of this year, Pop Warner football leagues have eliminated the kickoff for teams 10 years of age and under.

The NFL and NCAA rules committees have not had any formal discussion on eliminating the kickoff and will not broach the subject until after the 2017 season. Instead, they have moved up the kickoff placement to the 35-yard line to increase the number of touchbacks, therefore limiting the amount of returns and possible injuries. I can understand the intent of the rule change. Less is more in the vein that players will sustain less injury, therefore keeping quality players (product) on the field at all times. Get my drift?

Why the Kickoff is Necessary

Kickoffs have been a part of the game since its inception. Throughout all the modifications in football over the years, the kickoff has remained one of the few constants. It’s how you begin the game, simply put. It’s as iconic as the tip-off in basketball or the face-off for the puck in hockey. It wouldn’t be football without it.

Safety aside, let’s looks at the importance of the kickoff. First, it’s a positioning battle. It’s all about location in football. Where you begin determines the strategy you use to score.

If you start on your own 40-yard line, offenses don’t feel the pressure of being backed up to their own goal line. In that, offenses are more prone to exact more diverse play calls.

If you start at the 25-yard line or closer, typically, the offense will scale back the offense until they establish a better yard placement on the field, which is why you see more runs and short passes in those situations.

Another aspect to look at in regards to the importance of the kickoff is that it directly affects the type of personnel each team carries. Every team has a return specialist. Usually, they have great top end speed and elusiveness to maneuver through the carnage and gain as many yards as possible.

However, they may be lacking in other skill-sets that would not enable them to play offense or defense. Players like Devin Hester, Ted Ginn, Jr. (to a lesser degree) and the like would not have the opportunity to play football if it weren’t for special teams. This isn’t limited to just returners, I’m talking the entire special teams units altogether. Every player has a specific skill-set, and it just so happens that it fits in line with either setting up or disrupting a return.

Just as field position is vital to the game of football, momentum is just as, if not more, important. Momentum sparks, drives, and changes the complexions of the game. How many times have you seen your team down by a score with seconds to go, only to have a kickoff, or punt return for that matter, completely change the outcome. Kickoffs are as majestic as the Hail Mary. The fortunes of a team are transformed in the blink of an eye.

Happy Medium?

In the end, I may be a football purist, but I do see and understand the level of concern folks may share. It’s the purist in me that always comes back to, “this is football!” It’s meant to be violent. I’m not advocating deliberate injuries. However, I am in favor of setting a tone. Tackles, stiff arms, jukes, and kickoff returns set a tone. It’s that very tone that either helps earn the victory or invites defeat.

Is there a happy medium that can be reached? Frankly, I don’t think so. If we go by an adjusted field placement, they’ll be a shift in strategy that could possibly augment the game, making it less exciting. Not to mention, you eliminate the crowd’s involvement. There’s nothing more exciting than to see thousands of bulbs flash during teh opening kickoff.

I can’t imagine a crowd getting hype over the offense and defense simply taking the field. There’s no momentum, no emotion, no signifying moment that lets the player and you, the fan, know that there’s a battle brewing. Until the 2017 season ends and the rules committee bump heads on whether to change a rule as vital to the game as the quarterback, we’ll just savor these moments and enjoy football the way it was meant to be.

E-mail David at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @VirgosAssasin

Featured image courtesy of Erik Drost/ Flickr

About June in July and a Roundtable Welcome

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Alden Darby and the Sun Devils defense shut-out visiting Sacramento State 55-0 in triple-digit heat on Thursday night in Tempe last September

For some, I’m sure it might be difficult to mentally prepare for College Football while triple-digit highs in the forecast are commonplace. For me, a guy who started the 2013 season in Section 3 at Sun Devil Stadium, shiny like Hulk Hogan from the perspiration, 106 just reminds of me of the kickoff to Sacramento State last September. With over a week left in the month of July, the College Football fan can start seeing real things happening with their beloved team of choice, so what better time to launch our regularly scheduled programming on College Football Roundtable?
College Football Roundtable is something that happens, or is born, when a fan’s thirst for knowledge about College Football exceeds the knowledge made available to them with existing resources. By conducting a nationwide search to build a roster of near 100 writers, this roundtable doesn’t have a singular voice, but many contrasting and like opinions will be published daily. Our depth chart, if you will, goes four or five deep with coverage of certain teams, so we’ll offer coverage from various angles. It’s important to mention that we are about opinions, so don’t look to us for straight game recaps. There are plenty of places to get that; we’re here to offer perspective.
It was about 11 years ago that I was given a little bit of perspective, when I happened to be in Ohio for Labor Day Weekend. The Buckeyes were hosting Washington in their first game since capturing the BCS Championship in Tempe, Arizona just eight months earlier. We went to a bar/restaurant in a Cleveland suburb, and I was shocked to see the atmosphere was more about the dining room than you’d expect from a sports bar. I forgot how much apathy exists for the game, even in places like Ohio, which are known as football-crazy locales. That isn’t to say the craziness doesn’t exist; I just wonder if there are pockets of Alabama where Saturday evening diners can maintain their indoor voices with the Tide on television throughout the lounge.
The Huskies of Northern Illinois have had an incredible run of late, but their reward is always going to be a trip into the belly of a high-major beast or another forgotten game against another non-rate. This is life in a conference at the bottom rung of the Bowl Subdivision.

That’s where this writing team helps all of us. I don’t know how things are when the game is on in Tuscaloosa any better than I know what players are considered special in Laramie, Wyoming. I’m only mildly aware of what goes on in DeKalb, Illinois, other than what I see on Saturday afternoons, and on the occasional Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday night in November, because that’s how they do it in the MAC. Like anyone else, I certainly have my bias towards the things that garner more of my attention. Because I watch more Pac-12 games than someone back east, I have to listen to others tell me that Kevin Hogan is probably better than I’ve thought he is, or that maybe Brett Hundley isn’t quite as special as I believe him to be. It reminds me that I’m on the outside looking in with a lot of the story-lines, so I’m wondering how accurate the SEC guys were in evaluating Aaron Murray, Connor Shaw, and AJ McCarron , for example.
Of course, we’ll never have a real answer; it’s all open to interpretation, because the NFL doesn’t necessarily tell the tale of what caliber College Football player you were. I like football, which means I like the NFL; I don’t really see the need to pick a favorite, so I don’t. I just know that I legitimately enjoy the Saturday afternoon experience so much that I start to feel sad at halftime of the final game of the night, because the day is nearing its end. I refer to the college game as “The Greatest Thing To Happen to Saturday”, and when you think about it, the first day of the weekend has a lot going for it. I’m not certain that I’d grant the NFL’s relationship with Sunday with the same type of superlatives.

Coaches Are Talking

We’ve reached the point in the summers, where the leagues are starting to hold their PR conferences, so the coaches are able demonstrate a level of charisma that you never quite see in October. Players are rewarded with the privilege of accompanying their Head Coach to these Media Days, but it really seems more like it’s just something that serves as an honor that can be stripped for misconduct. I get it, you can’t have the ambassadors for your program being forced to answer questions about any legal issues, but what joy do the student-athletes get from talking to the media and truncating their limited time off? A few minutes on Sportcenter is probably a cool thing for a lot of these guys, but those blue-chippers are likely going to be featured for what they do in a helmet and pads in about two months, and for the right reasons.

Gus Malzahn did not permit his starting quarterback to accompany him to SEC Media Days, due to an occurrence in Georgia that may or may not affect Auburn’s depth chart to start the year.

About the Haves and the Have-Nots

The story that grabbed my attention this week came from June Jones, a head coach at “have not” programs since 1999 and in his current gig at SMU since 2008. Jones told the Dallas Morning News this week that he thinks “the have-nots should go ahead and move to the spring just like the USFL did,” and he went on to reveal he thinks if the have-nots don’t think that way as a group they’ll be left behind. It’s funny, because in this second year of the newly-formed American Athletic Conference, it will be their first with no big-money guarantees for the post-season to the conference’s champion. So, this “Group of Five”, who might as well just call “The Others” are only promised consideration in conjunction with the College Football Playoff. Last year, Central Florida went to Arizona as conference champions and returned home with a Fiesta Bowl win over favored Baylor. So, technically Jones was coaching one of the “haves” last year, but he’s back on the outside looking in now.

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June Jones has coached in the USFL and he’s led Hawaii to a Sugar Bowl. Jones is now at SMU, who plays in a conference ranked among the have-nots, wants to bring a certain USFL element to the lower tier of Division I-FBS Football.

I never like to support any business plan that uses the USFL as precedent, as Jones did in suggesting the mid-majors that currently play in the Football Bowl Subdivision shift their season to the spring, but there’s something to this. I’ll dismiss the idea of February/April/May seasons on arrival, but I am on board with the concept of breaking down the top tier a little more.

“I can see in five-to-seven years, possibly, the public would demand to have the two leagues play, just like I think the USFL had in mind, originally, of the winner of the USFL playing the winner of the National Football League.”

I think of this Spring Season stepping on the toes of the NCAA Basketball Tournament and the NFL Draft, and that right there is enough to eliminate that as an option. A few weeks ago, we ran a story at the Roundtable about the Darlings of the BCS, those who crashed the party. One year, we saw the best of the two non-Automatic-Qualifiers in the Fiesta Bowl. We also had a few years of the mandatory non-AQ against the token Automatic Qualifier from the cartel of the big money leagues, but there were some legitimate upsets of teams like Oklahoma and Alabama. I’d always like to see the best two of the small conference programs play after the season, but the current bowl tie-ins always seem to make it difficult. I’m very curious about who would have won a Fresno State-Northern Illinois last year, with something real on the line.
The current tier isn’t going anywhere; there’s too much for everyone to gain, with the paycheck games and the narrative that comes with Boise State and NIU coming out of nowhere, though neither school will shock anyone with their success unless we see one of them reach and advance in the playoff. Honestly, I have a hard time believing something that would ever come to fruition.
 

Off the College Gridiron

What I write in this space will be the only thing I’m going to write, so I intend to reserve some space at the end of my Sunday column for thoughts that may not pertain to College Football. I promise to be brief.
The All-Star Game and affiliated activities, namely the Home Run Derby, took place at Target Field in Minnesota this week. Yoenis Cespedes won the Derby for the second consecutive year, and I’m not sure that’s relevant to much of anything, but I’m still furious that my Cleveland Indians were in the running for his services a few years back, but lost out and settled for Grady Sizemore, who spent a year on the treadmill and no time in center field for the Tribe. With Cespedes, it’s doubtful the Indians would have sought the right-handed bat they overpaid for in Nick Swisher and the center fielder they overpaid for in Michael Bourn. For owners that are constantly branded as “cheap”, the Dolan family sure shelled out almost $100 million over four seasons with little return as we reach the halfway point on those investments. Seriously though, Cespedes is doing great things in Oakland.
I’m not a basketball guy or an NBA guy, so sometimes I feel like I fly too close to the sun with those discussions. The big story with the Cleveland people, and I am pretty sure this one is national, is how the Cavaliers are going to enlist the services of Kevin Love, who is currently under contract with the Minnesota Timeberwolves. It hadn’t been a week since the Cavs learned LeBron James would return and the world was already freaking out about how to make the team a World Championship team in 11 months. The narrative seems to be to encourage Cleveland to panic, when it’s Minnesota racing the clock. Once Training Camp begins, the commodity that is Kevin Love, the Minnesota Timberwolf, turns into a used car, its value derpreciating by the minute. Next July, Kevin Love isn’t going to come cheap, but he’ll be available to everyone in all likelihood, and it won’t cost the team he wants to play for any assets. If you’re LeBron James or Kevin Love, isn’t one last year apart worth it to keep a young core intact?
This won’t always be a “rant about Cleveland things”, but it worked out that way this week.
On a final note, this Monday launch of CFB Roundtable is a big deal. There are a lot of people who put in a lot of work behind the scenes to get us where we are, and we are grateful for everyone’s help. These writers really have good things to say, but you won’t always agree. Please allow yourselves to be heard by interacting with us in the Comments section below the post and on Twitter when possible. We hope to make this a true roundtable, with real dialogue in an online community setting.
We welcome all of you to the program. Thanks for being a part of it.