Mon Jun 06 06:03am EDT
Once upon a time, the early overseers of college football were forced to ban the sport's original kamikaze mission, the "Flying Wedge," in the wake of results too bloody to sustain even by the standards of the 1890s. From that movement alone sprang the helmet, the forward pass and the modern game as we've known it for generations. Now, more than a century later — and just a few months after watching one of his own players paralyzed from the neck down while covering a kickoff last October — Rutgers coach Greg Schiano has a farfetched plan to finish the job by eliminating kickoffs altogether:
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.
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.
Either way, Schiano said, this is the bottom line: "It would lead to much less impact and fewer collisions, but it would still be a way to get the game started in similar field position. … I don't think we'd lose that much, and we'd gain a bunch for the welfare of the players."
I can hear traditionalists blanching at the ongoing wussification of an inherently violent sport from here, but given the direction of rules changes over the last few years in response to a frightening flood of new information on the long-term dangers of head injuries, it was only a matter of time before the kickoff came into the crosshairs: Both the NFL and NCAA have already banned "wedge" formations on kickoffs to reduce the number of high-speed collisions like the one that felled Rutgers' Eric LeGrand, the latter as a result of studies that reportedly showed 20 percent of all injuries on kickoffs resulted in concussions. Schiano has been bouncing the idea off various officials and his colleagues at recent Big East meetings, and if his vision of a kickoff-free future isn't quite an idea whose time has come, it may be coming faster than aficionados of old-school head-hunting would like to imagine.
As for me, as much as I enjoy a time-honored collision, I'm also intrigued by anything that introduces new elements of strategy and risk, not to mention increased odds of wild comebacks at the end of a game — the chances of converting a desperation 4th-and-15 may be low, but they're still better than the chances of recovering an expected onside kick. And just imagine: Aggressive offensive coaches like Chip Kelly may decided there's no reason they ever have to give the ball up at all (and in Oregon's case, most likely converting with alarming frequency). Which means you can probably count on the rest of the Pac-12, at least, voting "nay" if the question comes up in the foreseeable future.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.