NFL News: Are Kickoff Changes for Player Safety, or Owner Pocketbooks?

Nick SeroCorrespondent IIIMarch 24, 2011

New rule changes could eliminate the big play ability of players like Leon Washington.
New rule changes could eliminate the big play ability of players like Leon Washington.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The NFL has recently made some rule changes that aren’t sitting too well with their fans or their players. Roger Goodell and his fellow NFL employees have been looking in to ways to make the game of football safer.

Last year new rules were enforced on helmet-to-helmet hitting, although there were questions on how to enforce the new rules there weren’t many people against them. Sure, there was a hug stink in the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room about the changes, but that was focused more on the outlandish fines and questionable calls that unfolded. If you ask anyone in the Steelers’ locker room if concussions need to be reduced, you won’t hear one “No.”

You will definitely find some athletes in the AFC North opposed to the new rule changes, however. The new rules state that NFL kickoffs will start at the 35 yard line instead of the 30, a move the NFL hopes will cause more touchbacks and thus fewer injuries. Is that what is really going to happen? Or are we just eliminating the most entertaining and explosive play in football?

Take Josh Cribbs for example. Some have speculated that if it weren’t for his prowess as a return man he wouldn’t have made the Brown’s active roster. And if you can’t make the Browns’ roster, which roster do you make it on?

Cribbs is openly against the new rule changes, as are many other players and coaches. Cribbs doesn’t see how changing this rule will affect player’s health. Although the NFL has said that the majority of concussions are sustained on kickoffs, Cribbs says the new rules won’t do anything but make players like him obsolete.

I don’t know the exact number on concussion injuries sustained on kickoffs; I only know what I have seen. In the hundreds of NFL games I have watched in my lifetime I have yet to see any concussion injury on a kickoff that stands out.

The NFL says it is the repeated minor head hits that are going to show up later in a players life, but is the kickoff really to blame? Patrick Willis is arguably the best middle linebacker in football and isn’t asked to cover kickoffs. Willis isn’t any better off in the head injury debate however. He may miss the 4 or 5 kickoffs in an NFL game, but he is present for almost all of the head-to-head meetings of a linebacker and an offensive lineman or running back down in the trenches.

The NFL owners and players are all about money right now. The NFL even wanted to expand the season to increase their profit margin, although some believe it was only a bargaining tool for the new CBA. This got me to thinking, could there be any monetary value to increasing touchbacks?

The NFL makes the majority of its money off of its TV deals, which in turn come from commercials. The NFL couldn’t expand the season to increase their profit, so what about lengthening the game to make more room for commercials? After every kickoff there are a few commercials. If you remove the 10 seconds of kickoff returns, it adds ten seconds to the commercial break, which I know doesn’t seem like much. But even in the lowest scoring of games, you are guaranteed two kickoffs. So just to keep the numbers low, let’s say that we add 20 seconds of commercial time to all 256 regular season games. Now remember that the average commercial cost about $100,000 per 30 –seconds of air time. So we will just say that the extra 20 seconds brings in an extra $67,000 in revenue.

Now let’s add that to every regular season game. With the new rule changes, the NFL has now added $1.7 million dollars to their revenue stream, and that’s if every game is a defensive battle. Let’s not even get in to how much more it costs to advertise during the Super Bowl, let alone the playoffs. In total there are 334 total games if you want to include the preseason, playoffs and regular season. With all of those numbers the actual increase in revenue is around $2.24 million.

Or it really all could be because they are trying to protect their players, and themselves. There is just as much speculation that the NFL is simply trying to protect themselves from future lawsuits claiming the NFL didn’t do enough to protect the players. If the NFL wanted to make those strides, they could easily make it mandatory that each player where safer helmets, there are a few choices of helmets proven safer options than those used by NFL teams.

Let’s just say that the NFL is trying to protect the players, and not thinking about the bottom line. Will this rule change work? Or, as some players have speculated, will it cause more injuries and provide less opportunity to make the team?

A few scenarios I don’t think the NFL realized: one: With the lockout shaking the security of the lowest paid player and the new rule changes, will there be less opportunity for some players to make the team? Two: What’s keeping a special teams coach from telling his kicker to focus on hang time, and thus give the return man less time and space to avoid a colossal hit? And finally, three: how much more damaged is the player-owner relationship now that these rules have been applied?

To this point it is all speculative on the effects these rules will have, and for what reason they were adopted. One thing we do know is that as of now, there doesn’t seem to be any support from players, coaches or fans for the new rule changes.

Or, I could be wrong about all of it and in reality it’s just because no owner wants to have to see Leon Washington scoring two kickoff touchdowns to beat them.

Nick Sero is a football writer for TSC focuses on breaking sports news and fantasy advice.