In professional football, the kickoff should be replaced with a game mechanic that doesn’t sacrifice personal safety for a moment of entertainment.
With so many scandals and controversy coming out of the NFL, it’s understandable that the folks in charge of making big sweeping changes have a lot on their plate. But there’s a glaring problem that both the public and the league may not be able to put off for much longer.
Kickoffs in football are inherently exciting, and a driving force for the way the flow of regular gameplay is established. The tables can turn in a kickoff in such an abrupt way that they might even decide the fate of an entire game. But it comes at a high price.
It’s no secret that, in the NFL, more injuries occur during a kickoff than any other moment in the game. There’s simply too much time to gain too much speed, and then players are expected to collide headfirst with others to bring things to a dangerous halt.
According to the New York Times, a few years ago when the NFL decided to move the kickoff just five yards downfield, touchbacks increased to nearly 300 percent more than the previous number.
This sounds like a frustrating and boring result, weakening what is arguably one of the most exciting parts of a football game. But the change had the desired, and frankly humane, result—it led to a 40 percent decrease in the number of concussions sustained during a kickoff compared to the previous year.
If this simple change of five yards can make such an enormous difference, why are we allowing the injuries to continue at all?
If the idea of curbing hundreds of needless injuries doesn’t appeal to the institution as a whole for some reason, then maybe player skill might be a good motivation to consider nixing the kickoff.
The moment of kickoff, while certainly exciting, employs so much randomness so as to almost be as effective as a coin toss. Sure, the ability of a player to work in conjunction with a team is still important to the process. But the shape of the ball and the fallibility of kicking something hard and fast into the air creates massive chaos on the field.
Some would even argue the chaos is completely arbitrary, and it only serves to shake up the flow of the game in favor of a weaker team. If one team gains a noticeable lead, a chance at taking back the reigns may be just one kickoff away.
It’s true that kickoffs have been around for a very long time, and removing them would generate a giant backlash from many who think they should stick around. But the greater truth is that football, as a sport, isn’t sacred. It can, and should, adapt as the decades go on, in order to better serve the fans, the teams, and the individual players.
When talking about the safety of players, I think there’s no better reason to make a change than to preserve the lives and livelihoods of the ones who have to actually make their living on the field. If throwing away kickoffs means football can continued to be played more safely than it has in the past, then it’s a small price to pay.