NCAA Football

College Football Analysis: Schiano, Richt Want to Eliminate Kickoffs

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Eliminating kickoffs in college football may seem to some, in the words of Cosmo Kramer, kooky talk. Yet two well-known college coaches are for it.

Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano brought up a plan at the Big East annual meetings to eliminate kickoffs, replacing them with a situation in which the team normally kicking off is given a fourth-and-15 from its own 30, and would be allowed to either punt the ball or go for it.

From Steve Politi of the Star-Ledger, who reported the story:

“This is Schiano’s plan: Replace all kickoffs with a punting situation, including after the opening coin toss and to start the second half. So, as an example, when Team A scores a touchdown, it immediately gets the ball back on a fourth and 15 from its own 30-yard line.

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“It can punt it back to Team B — the most likely outcome and a safer play since the bigger collisions usually happen on kickoffs.

“Or it can line up and go for the first down, essentially replacing an onside kick with an offensive play that would require more skill than luck.” 

Schiano, of course, was impacted by Eric LeGrand‘s paralysis following a collision that occurred while making a tackle on a kickoff, not to mention the time he spent at LeGrand’s hospital bedside. “That whole time was a blur,” Schiano told the Star-Ledger of the time he spent at LeGrand’s bedside. “I just remember thinking, ‘Why do we have to have kickoffs? Just because we’ve always had them?’”

LeGrand, thankfully, has been making progress since the injury and recently reported that he has felt body twitches. You may follow LeGrand on Twitter at @BigE52_RU.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt, who witnessed Decory Bryant‘s career-ending neck injury back in 2003, also indicated that he’d be in favor of eliminating kickoffs. Rather than Schiano’s more-complex plan to substitute kickoffs with a fourth-and-15 situation, Richt suggests simply placing the ball at the 23 yard-line.

“If it went to a vote, I would vote for no kickoffs also,” Richt said at the Peach State Pigskin Preview as relayed by David Paschall of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “I would just place the ball at the 23-yard line or whatever the average has been. I am sure the defensive coaches would want it on the 18 and offensive coaches would want it on the 30.”

Richt wasn’t optimistic that kickoffs would be eliminated in the near future, however, and I’d have to agree. It’s been a part of the game for a very long time and coaches, players, fans, etc. aren’t often enthused about changing how the game is played. And you’ll always hear those who will tell us that hard collisions are part of what makes football, football.

It’s also unlikely the NFL will eliminate kickoffs, although the league recently changed the rules in such a way that we should see fewer returns and more touchbacks by moving kickoffs to the 35-yard-line, so I don’t see the NCAA bucking the trend as players prepare for the next level.

Personally, I enjoy watching a kickoff returned for a touchdown or a big return that gives a team crucial or game-changing field position with a ‘W’ on the line. Yet I’m finding it hard to brush off a rule change that would so clearly help to improve player safety. I know that severe injuries on kickoffs are not the norm (although we’ve seen too many in recent years), but if even one young man is paralyzed or seriously injured because we don’t want to change the way the game is played, it’s too many.

Figuring out whether I’m in support of or opposed to eliminating kickoffs is difficult; but with young men seeing their lives, not just their football lives, permanently changed we owe it to the players to consider the issue. As Schiano points out, keeping kickoffs simply because we’ve always had them isn’t the best of arguments.

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