Unintended consequences


Five years ago, the kickoff was moved from the 30 to the 35-yard line, to produce more touchbacks because the high-speed collisions that are part of kickoff returns make them among the most dangerous plays in the game. And it worked. The percentage of kickoffs returned significantly decreased. But with increased evidence and awareness of CTE and the link between CTE and the NFL pressure has mounted for the NFL to do more to protect the health of its players.

This past offseason the NFL Competition Committee came up with the idea of putting the receiving team that takes a touchback on the 25-yard line, instead of the 20. The change is potentially significant due to the fact that in 2015 the starting field position of only one NFL team was beyond the 25. But even the NFL is unsure if this one trial will make any difference. The first week of the preseason suggests not.

Not that anything should be determined based on one week and a spate of games that don’t count. But the concern is not that this new rule won’t decrease touchbacks, it’s that it could increase returns. Meaning increased opportunities for concussions and more contact resulting in more sub-concussive hits.

Football will never be safe but the NFL must take care to ensure their rule changes to protect player health are instituted for that reason, not to protect the NFL. If player safety is the primary concern, just get rid of kickoffs. If not, bring back the XFL scramble.


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