NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. (By Streeter Lecka, Getty Images Sport)
Chris Chase, USA TODAY Sports
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is the subject of a cover profile in this week's issue of TIME that focuses on his mission to make football safer.
The Sean Gregory piece is receiving much attention, most notably for a unique idea Goodell brought up about eliminating kickoffs. The magazine describes the potential rule change in a summary of Gregory's piece (which is not yet available to non-subscribers):
TIME sat in on meeting between Goodell and Rich McKay, head of the NFL's powerful competition committee. Goodell brought up a proposal promoted by Greg Schiano, coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: after a touchdown or field goal, instead of kicking off, a team would get the ball on its own 30-yard line, where it's fourth-and-15. The options are either to go for it and try to retain possession, or punt. If you go for it and fall short, the opposing team would take over with good field position. In essence, punts would replace kickoffs, and punts are less susceptible to violent collisions than kickoffs.
It's purposefully vague. The excerpt doesn't say whether it would be a free kick - like after a safety - or a regular punt. Wouldn't the former bring about the same violent collisions as kickoffs, given the lack of blocking on the line of scrimmage? The latter allows for defenses to try and block a punt, which seems unfair.
Schiano's idea is crazy enough to work but feels too crazy to implement, for now at least. It's gimmicky. The NFL rarely ventures into such terrain. The revamped overtimes are a prime example. Goodell and the owners wanted no part of a college overtime system, preferring to keep the system as traditional as possible.
If the past is any indication, a change to the kickoff would be incremental. It's already started, with the recent decision to move the kicks back to the 35-yard line. Automatic touchbacks are a logical next step.
The NFL dips its toes. It doesn't cannonball into the pool.
But a change is coming. Kickoffs are too reckless to keep and too easy to abandon. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has already stated that he believes the kicks will be eliminated one day. The league appears to agree. You think it's an accident Goodell brought this up in a meeting attended by a TIME reporter?
It'd be a great strategy. Float an idea from Schiano, a guy who's been in the NFL for 15 minutes and who's best known, at the moment, as the coach whose team pushes over opponents lined up in the victory formation. Get people talking about said idea. If it gains support, then go with it. If people don't like it (and I don't think they will), when a change eventually comes, that new rule won't feel as revolutionary as Schiano's proposal. It's classic expectations management.
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