The NFL keeps saying that the kickoff is the most dangerous play in the game. And someone apparently is listening.
At a time when the NFL is trying to reduce the number of kickoffs, Pop Warner youth football has decided to ban kickoffs at the three youngest age divisions.
“We are constantly working to make the game safer and better for our young athletes, and we think this move is an important step in that direction,” Pop Warner executive director Jon Butler told the Associated Press. “Eliminating kickoffs at this level adds another layer of safety without changing the nature of this great game.”
Instead of a kickoff, the ball will be placed at the 35 yard line at the beginning of each half and after scores.
As a practical matter, this change removes the possibility of an onside kick, which will make it much harder for a team that is trailing to narrow the gap. That’s likely one of the main reasons for the NFL’s failure to get rid of kickoffs.
The best alternative suggested to date (and it was good enough to make its way into a Time magazine profile of Commissioner Roger Goodell several years ago) came from former Rutgers and Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano, who suggested that the kicking team instead has the ball at its own 30, facing fourth down and 15 yards to go. That team can then punt or go for it.
Is it perfect? No. But it’s the only way to both get rid of the kickoff, simulate it with a possible punt, give the team that is trailing a chance to get back in the game, and allow for the possibility of a surprise, via a fake punt.