Fixing Kickoffs: Preventing Concussions and Maintaining the Most Exciting Play

Will CarrollSports Injuries Lead WriterJanuary 18, 2013

The Kickoff Can be Exciting...or Dangerous
The Kickoff Can be Exciting...or DangerousDoug Pensinger/Getty Images

The NFL has considered some extreme measures to reduce concussions and other traumatic injuries on the kickoff. The downside of those proposals is that it removes the likelihood of exciting plays from speedsters like Devin Hester or Trindon Holliday. I said on Twitter that I could fix kickoffs in 140 characters or less. Here that is:

1. Receiving team must have at least eight players within 20 yards of ball. 

2. Kickoffs may be kicked out of bounds with no penalty.

Simple, right? Well, you probably want more details. 

Why within 20 yards? Really, there is a 10-yard zone for the receiving team, from the normal 10 yards from the ball to another 10 yards back. This means that even with a running start from the kickoff team, we're not likely to get the kind of train-crash collisions between giant men running 40-yard dashes at each other that have been the major problem. Remember, the "wedge" has been an issue in football for 100 years.

This is the initial formation only. Eight players must be in that 10-yard zone when the referee blows the whistle for the kick. They could backpedal at that point, as some teams do now. This is strictly a strategy to limit the distance that players can run at each other. At present, most teams will play five or six up, then a couple more at about the 20 or 25, which function as a wedge in most cases. The kicking team is running from about their own 25, and the receiving blockers are going from about their own 20. That's 40 to 50 yards at a full sprint leading to a collision. That is what this is intended to reduce. 

Why eight players? Because the receiving team will need three players back, because...

Why not just kick everything out of bounds? Well, yes, but it's never that easy. The simple solution would be to play three returners back—one central, one at each sideline. My assumption is that you would put them just behind the 20. That would keep the easy "coffin corner" kick from being so easy.

Want to kick it out of bounds at the 25 or 30? Fine by the receiving team, I'm sure. There would be ways to disguise which returner would go where, so the "kick it away from Devin Hester" issue is moot.

Honestly, this is just that simple. We reduce the number of high-speed collisions, create more possibilities for both kicking and receiving teams and keep the excitement of the long return play. I have yet to hear a downside or reason why this could not be instantly implemented. 

Will Carroll has been writing about sports injuries for 12 years. His work has appeared at, and the New York Times.