After a touchdown or field goal, instead of kicking off, a team would get the ball on its own 30-yard line, where it's fourth-and-15. The options are either to go for it and try to retain possession or punt. If you go for it and fall short, of course, the opposing team would take over with good field position. In essence, a punt replaces the kickoffs.
The first question regarding this idea is about the start of games. Does the team that wins the coin toss start with the ball on its 30-yard line facing the punt or go for a fourth-and-15 option?
It is very difficult to get behind such as idea, but there is a possible option. First, one has to assume the reason behind this is player safety. The league has already adjusted several kickoff rules including eliminating the wedge, modifying player alignment during onside kicks and moving the location of the kickoffs.
These rules were made in the name of player safety. Some of the most violent hits in a game come during the kickoff. Moving the kickoffs has roughly tripled the amount of touchbacks that occur. While this has greatly taken away the excitement of a touchdown return, it does lower players' risk.
Under this new idea, those kicks would be replaced by a punt. Yes, there is the option to keep the ball and go for a 4th-and-15 prayer play; however, that would be a rarely used play. Only teams that are down late in a game would choose that option. This means that the vast majority of the time, this play will be a punt.
Punts are just as violent as kickoffs, and some could argue they are more so. While players do have the option of a fair catch, there is always the temptation to run. As with the increase of touchbacks, there will be more fair catches as well. Between touchbacks and fair catches, these are not plays anymore but dragged out possession changes.
If players decide to fair-catch the punts, then what is the difference over the current abundance of touchbacks? If the goal is to limit the risk of the play in order to protect players, then there is a better option. Instead of eliminating the dangerous kickoff for an equally dangerous punt or eliminating two plays that end up as no plays with touchbacks and fair catches, they should not do either.
Instead, they should start the game and each possession after a score at the 20-yard line. Touchbacks start there now, and with the dramatic increase in the number of touchbacks, the kickoffs do nothing but waste game time. Under Goodell’s idea, punts would come from the 30-yard line. Currently, the league average for punts is 46 yards. On average, this would put punts near the 26-yard line.
If it is going to be that close to a touchback anyway, then why have the play. Why waste game clock on what amounts to a game of catch? Why risk one more blindside hit or sprint down the field? Just give the other team the ball at their 20 and let the game play out. It keeps players safer, and more actual plays happen during a game.
PJ Sapienza is a featured columnist covering the Detroit Red Wings as well as many other sports.
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