Why College Football Should Get Rid of the Kickoff

Michael FelderNational CFB Lead WriterFebruary 25, 2014

TEMPE, AZ - OCTOBER 19:  General view of action as the Washington Huskies kick off to the Arizona State Sun Devils during the college football game at Sun Devil Stadium on October 19, 2013 in Tempe, Arizona. The Sun Devils defeated the Huskies 53-24. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Tommy Bowden's elimination of the extra point proposal got college football fans talking about the possibility of doing away with the PAT. The focus on special teams also brought to mind a debate that took place at both the NFL and the collegiate level: the elimination of the kickoff. Removal of the violent play should still be on the table for the college game.

Former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano was the most vocal advocate proposing the elimination in 2011 to the Star-Ledger. Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples was on board, as were others, as Schiano outlined a plan that would eliminate the massive collisions while still making the game compelling.

As Staples pointed out in the summer of 2011, there would actually be more possibility for the touchdowns that people fear would be removed from the game:

Since the NCAA moved the kickoff back to the 30-yard line in 2007, teams have kicked off 32,936 times. Of those kickoffs, 281 were returned for touchdowns. During that same span, teams have punted 28,857 times. Of those punts, 279 were returned for touchdowns. A kickoff went to the house one out of every 117 times, while a punt went to the house one out of every 103 times. The kicking style more likely to be returned for a touchdown is the more exciting one.

Note that the SI numbers are through the 2010 season. 

Since Staples' data were produced, the NCAA has moved the kickoff up to the 35-yard line, in a move explained as a safety measure to reduce collisions. The rules folks recognize the issues with the kickoff and attempted to respond to the need. However, the move also worked to effectively reduce the amount of kickoffs, to an ever increasing extent.

Cody Parkey's touchbacks 70.41 percent of the time helped keep his teammates out of harm's way.
Cody Parkey's touchbacks 70.41 percent of the time helped keep his teammates out of harm's way.Butch Dill/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

If the goal is to reduce kickoffs and stop the violent contact that comes with the practice, it makes sense to simply eliminate them in general. After all, under the current system, only the players on a team with a strong kicker are protected. Meanwhile, for those teams without a kicker possible of sending the ball the comfortable 65-plus yards into the end zone, their players are still exposed to the dangers.

Under the Schiano plan, teams would be rewarded for having quality punters, but the safety of every teams' players would be taken into account by eliminating the collisions that come with the kickoff. If safety, for all the players involved, is the goal, then the plan to eliminate kickoffs absolutely is worth consideration.

As with the NFL toying with the idea in 2012, there will be pushback as NFL.com highlights from several coaches and players. The question here is about how serious the safety measure should be. If the goal is to reward teams, and their strong-legged kickers, with safety, than the current practice is ideal. However, if protecting everyone is the job, moving away from the kickoff should at least be considered for the future of the game.

The game has already been altered in the name of safety. The newest targeting rules, including the ejection, are a push, from all those involved, to change the culture college football, and people are making it work. Eliminating the kickoff would be a shock to the system, but as Staples notes and a team like 2013 North Carolina proves, punts can have plenty of fireworks as well.