SPORTS WATCH | How Many Rule Changes Are Needed for a Safer Game?
by Gus Jarvis
Dec 13, 2012 | 1351 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Perhaps we, as a football-loving country, should start embracing the game of rugby more? Maybe even flag football? As things look right now, I don’t know if the game of football, as we know it and love it, will last much longer into the future.

Player safety is a major topic of discussion these days as doctors learn more about the effects multiple concussions can have on a player’s overall health. There’s the looming lawsuit in which 2,000 players have filed a joint complaint accusing the NFL of hiding information linked to football-related brain injuries. There’s been a series of player suicides that may link to head trauma.

The NFL must get serious about player safety, and Commissioner Roger Goodell knows it.

To cut down on full-speed head-on hits in football, the NFL has already moved the kickoff from the 30 to the 35-yard-line. Since instituting that change, I would guess that the jury’s still out on whether or not it’s been effective, but with a large number of the kickoffs going through the goal posts, I would imagine it has.

Referees are throwing flags at any sort of head-to-head collisions, right or wrong. Now, in what’s been the controversy of the week across sports talk radio waves, Goodell is floating the idea of drastically changing the game by eliminating kickoffs.

In an extensive interview with Time magazine last week, Goodell said he’s considering the idea of getting rid of the kickoff altogether, in the name of safety. According to the story, Goodell and Rick McKay, the head of the league’s competition committee, discussed the idea of having a team, instead of kicking off, simply start with the ball on its own 30-yard line in a fourth-and-15 situation. From there, the options for that team would be either to go for a first down and retain possession, or punt the ball away. When a team that decides to go for it doesn’t get the first down, the opposing team can take over with good field position. In essence, according to the article, punts would replace kickoffs (and punts are less susceptible to dangerous collisions than kickoffs).

Obviously, teams trying to mount a comeback in a game are going to go for the first down in the same way they otherwise would have attempted an onside kick.

What’s interesting about the idea is that it was brought to Goodell by Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano. Even though Schiano has a reputation for dirty play (telling his players to blast through victory formations during final plays of the game), Schiano has seen the dangers of kickoff collisions firsthand.

In 2010, as head coach at Rutgers, one of Schiano’s players, Eric LeGrand, was paralyzed on a kickoff against Army. He broke two vertebrae and lost the ability to walk. He’s since been an inspiration, as he’s found a way to stand up with the help of a metal frame. Following that injury, Schiano told ESPN The Magazine that he believes kickoffs will soon be a thing of the past.

“I believe that day will come,” Schiano said. “Unfortunately, it will probably take more players being seriously hurt. But I think there’s another way to do this.”

When Schiano said that back in September, I remember thinking that he might be right, but it’s not going to happen for a long time. Something that drastic will take a long, long time to work out. So I didn’t pay much attention to what he was saying; I thought the move from the 30 to the 35-yard-line would be enough for now.

Well, I guess if what Goodell told Time is true, kickoffs could be gone from the game sooner rather than later.

“I thought it was an interesting idea,” Goodell said last week. “The committee will look at it.”

It’s usually about now that I would start a long Goodell-bashing rant about how he’s going to ruin the game with too many rule changes, and that NFL team owners need to come together to fire Goodell as soon as possible. I’ve never been a fan of Goodell (nor any commissioner of a professional sport for that matter) and I’ve said so many, many times in the past. For some reason, though, I’m starting to feel for the guy. He really is in a tough situation.

Professional football reigns in the U.S. in a big, big way. Serious fans of the game like it just the way it is: a collision sport that is violent. It’s an addictive passion for much of the country. We must have football, and up until now, Goodell and Co. have always given us what we  wanted. In exchange, our passion for the game has made the NFL billions.

What’s unfortunate is that as we learn more about head trauma and concussions, it’s obvious the game is going to have to change, at all levels. So here’s where Goodell gets to make his millions. He gets to be the one to keep the game interesting to us football-hungry fans – while making it safer for the players. Can it be done? I’m not sure. Will taking away kickoffs make the game safer? Sure. But what’s next?

As football legend Terry Bradshaw said on The Petros and Money Show last week, what could be next? Eliminating the forward pass? Take away the pads and add flags? Bradshaw went so far as to call Goodell “crazy” for even considering taking away the kickoff. (By the way, The Petros and Money Show is by far the most entertaining and informative program offering great sports talk on the radio. You absolutely must download their podcasts at foxsportsradio.com).

Mike Ditka hates the idea. So does Fox Sports’ officiating guru Mike Pereira.

“Are you kidding me?” Pereira told USA Today. “That’s a ridiculous proposal. There are many ways to make the NFL safer. Eliminating one of the most exciting parts of the game should not be one of them. After sitting through 10 years worth of competition committee meetings, I think they will look at this proposal, roll their eyes, and move on to the next subject within minutes.”

I don’t know what’s going to happen to football, only that something is going to happen. Something must happen. That gigantic lawsuit is forcing it. And if nothing happens to make the game safer, it’s going to cost the NFL more, which in turn will cost fans more.

The question is how many rule changes are needed to make the game safer, and then, once it’s deemed safer, will it still be worth watching? I sure hope it is. If not, we’d all better start brushing up on our rugby rules. That may soon be the next best thing.



gjarvis@watchnewspapers.com

twitter: @gusgusj

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