The latest edition of TIME Magazine features NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell under the title "The Enforcer" on its cover.
In an article written by Sean Gregory, Goodell addresses various topics including former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher and player safety. Under this last topic, the Comissioner says that he'd consider eliminating kickoffs altogether.
The change would be this: Kickoff units would be eliminated. Instead, the kicking team would start at its own 30-yard line on an automatic fourth-and-15 situation. This would give that team two options: punt (which would be the equivalent of kickoff) or go for it (which would be similar to attempting an onside kick).
As is well known, kick returns are one of the most dangerous plays in football, due to the speed and direct trajectory at which players collide. On the other hand, the difference in coverage and impact on punt returns allows for safer play. However, kickoffs are, at the same time, one of the most exciting plays in professional sports, even when the current rule of kicking from the 35-yard line has allowed more touchbacks than in the past.
So, should kickoffs stay as they are or are they headed the way of the dodo bird?
At first glance, the idea of eliminating kickoffs sounds outrageous. Fans feel that rule changes are stripping football from its hard-hitting nature and consequently, it's entertainment appeal. However, I believe the idea has its merits, and while it may not be perfect, it should at least be considered.
Aside from the fact that punt returns are generally considered safer than kick returns, punt returns are entertainment sources in their own right. As of Week 13 of the 2012 NFL season, there have been 10 kick returns for touchdowns from nine different players (with Ravens' Jacoby Jones having two kick returns for TD's). Meanwhile, there have been 13 punt returns for touchdowns from 12 different players (Bills' Leodis McKelvin has two punt returns for TD already).
Should kickoffs be replaced by fourth-and-15 situations?
Now, starting on a fourth-and-15 might not be enough. In this passing league, advancing 15 yards is more easily obtainable than recovering an onside kick, so maybe a fourth-and-20 may even the odds. Then again, having a fourth-and-15 might make a game more exciting by making it easier for teams attempting to mount a comeback.
Also, making it easier to keep possession of the ball with a fourth-and-15 instead of a onside kick recover attempt could force defenses to play harder when teams attempting comebacks are within scoring distances. Sometimes, on two-possession leads, defenses allow the opposing team to score, and then rely on the difficulty of recovering an onside kick to close the game. If keeping possession is easier, defenses may think twice about allowing a comeback-attempting team to score.
Obviously, each fan has its own reasons to like or dislike the "proposal." However, I consider that a more detailed analysis could reveal that it's not as far-fetched as it sounds and should be given the benefit of doubt at least.