Pro Football Will Survive Kick-Off Rule Change

I don’t know. That new NFL rule to move the kick-off line from the 30 to the 35-yard line has the same feel as the Possession Arrow in basketball.

Basketball once resorted to the jump whenever possession of the ball was in dispute–players from both teams laid hands on a free ball, but neither could wrangle it from the other. Jump ball. Suspense. Who gains the possession? The Arrow knows.

Basketball’s possession arrow took athleticism out of an element of the game where teams could change their prospects to win. Basketball survived, but saw leaping centers differently. They were less needed.

Pro football will survive moving the kick-off line to the 35, but will look at kickers and kick returners differently.

Hey, you college kickers, demonstrate control on Pro Day visits to your campus. Your ability to kick higher rather than longer will put money in your pocket because teams will look for kick-off specialists who can force fair catches between the goal and the 10-yard line.

Sorry return specialists. The new rule hurts your ability to make the team. Now, any punt-return specialist can stand on the goal line and watch a kick-off sail over his head for a touchback. Maybe kick-off returners and punt returners become the same person on every team as the Washington Redskins do with Brandon Banks. Somebody gets squeezed off roster because of this.

The NFL changed the rule because kick-offs are the “highest risk of injury play,” according New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton. Injuries visit players of the kick-off team. The rule change cuts the running start for those players from 15 yards to five.

We wrote a few days back that football might be killing the players. It’s the nature of the beast. The physics of the game, where mass times velocity equals jack-you-up hits, crumples bodies. The NFL could restrict that by setting maximum player weight to 250 pounds (mass), or by dialing back velocity. They chose velocity.

Did I say compassionate fans?

I cited two factors that might force the league to protect players, compassionate fans who demanded changes that protect players and uncompassionate lawyers. My money was always on the lawyers.

Fan reaction to the rule is mostly negative with most citing how it affects the game. U.S. and State Courts don’t give the teams much leeway. Employers are liable for maintaining unsafe working conditions, even for inherently dangerous work. They are liable when workers are injured. Ignore evidence of known risk factors and the liability is punitive.

Even Devin Hester may sue 15 years from now if he is debilitated for life and thinks the league showed callous disregard for his safety. Hester isn’t thinking 15 years down the road. I assure you that the owners are.

The owners had to do something. This wasn’t a football decision. It was a business decision.

The game goes on. Watching how coaches and players adapt will be fun. 

Anthony Brown

About Anthony Brown

Lifelong Redskins fan and blogger about football and life since 2004. Joined MVN's Hog Heaven blog in 2005 and then moved Redskins Hog Heaven to Bolguin Network. Believes that the course of a season is pre-ordained by management decisions made during the offseason. Can occasionally be found on the This Given Sunday blog and he does guest posts.