Packers.com Staff Writer Mike Spofford says yes.
If the statistics show there’s a disproportionate number of injuries on kickoffs, the league needs to do something, even if it’s not the most popular move with fans.
It makes sense that a lot of injuries happen on kickoffs because there are more players running longer distances, which creates more high-speed collisions than on any other play. Plain and simple, that’s how players get hurt.
Apparently, moving the kickoff line up five yards, from the 30 to the 35, isn’t enough. Touchbacks are up and returns are down, but if there are still too many injuries, it’s just not worth it.
Sure, a long kickoff return is exciting and one of the longest-lasting bursts of excitement on any football field, but can you really say kickoffs in general are that exciting anymore? The rule change moving the kickoff up five yards has dulled returns to the point that if the return man does bring the ball out of the end zone, he’s tackled between the 15- and 25-yard lines more often than not.
Randall Cobb’s 108-yard return last year and David Wilson’s display for the New York Giants last week were remarkable and memorable, but those moments are few and far between. Are they really worth all the risk we’re hearing that kickoffs pose?
Let’s face it, the real long-term issue is this – if the league doesn’t do what it can to make the game safer, the youth in this country won’t be playing the game. Youth numbers are down in the sport already as a result of all the concerns about concussions.
If the sport starts losing its share of the elite athletes to other games and activities, the quality of play at the NFL level will eventually suffer. That, in turn, would have a longer-lasting effect on the game’s popularity than removing kickoffs would.
Packers.com Editor Vic Ketchman says no.
Promoting player safety is the intent of reducing or eliminating kickoffs from football games, and I don’t wish to be viewed as a ghoul who lacks regard for the players’ safety. What I’m suggesting is that we find ways to promote player safety without eliminating one of the most exciting plays in football, the kickoff return for a touchdown.
That’s what it was this past Sunday. David Wilson’s kickoff return for a touchdown was one of the most, possibly the most exciting play of the day. It immediately followed an interception return for a touchdown and it dramatically reversed the direction of the game.
Do we really want to eliminate that play? Giants fans were jumping up and down hugging each other. That’s bad for football?
Let’s pose the question of this debate a different way: Are we willing to risk a decline in the popularity of the game as a result of having made it too safe?
I think everyone agrees football needs to become a safer, less violent game, but all those people packing stadiums across the country every weekend aren’t there to see safe. Physical confrontation has always been at the heart of the game’s charm, and eliminating physical confrontation won’t make the game more popular.
Find other ways. Eliminating isn’t a means to an end, it is the end.
Do something to reduce the danger in the kickoff play. Introduce the forward pass to it, if need be, but don’t eliminate the play from the game. Eliminate unnecessary danger from the game, not the ingredients of the game. We’ve already done too much of that. We might be at the tipping point.
A long time ago, a wise football man pointed through the press box glass at a stadium full of fans and said to me: “It doesn’t have to be like that.” Have we lost sight of that fact? Are we taking the fans for granted?
Promoting player safety is important, but no more important a pursuit than promoting fan interest.
Maybe it’s time to ask the fans what they want.
Cast your vote in the poll on the right, please.