It is the most violent, video-friendly, terrifying, electrifying, dangerous and dramatic play in football. And unfortunately, its days may be numbered.
Over the past eight months, Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano has become the public face of a movement to eliminate the kickoff from college football. In an interview with an Atlanta radio station last week, he again laid out his proposal:
"Instead of having a kickoff, every place where you would have a kickoff now, you would put in place a 4th-and-15 situation. The team that would now be kicking off would have the option: They could punt the ball or they could go for it. The option to go for it would replace the onside kickoff. You could still try to maintain possession of the ball. If you don't, then you punt the ball. I think it would start the game in similar field position. Punts are a much, much less physical play."
Schiano referenced a statistic that more than 15 percent of the catastrophic injuries suffered on the football field happen on kickoffs, even though there are only a handful of kickoffs per game.
You can't knock Schiano for wanting to make the game safer. He is a former college linebacker, a longtime coach and a parent. One of his players, Eric LeGrand, remains paralyzed from the neck down today due to an injury suffered on a kickoff last October.
Schiano, like anybody who cares about football, cares about the welfare of the players.
But wiping out the kickoff? Though I understand the safety concerns, it would be a shame to tear down a stage on which some of college football's most talented players have put in work. It'd be like turning a demolition crew on the Apollo Theater.
Consider what we've seen from the most electrifying kick-returners to mark the college football landscape over the past quarter-century.