The National Football League is looking to make changes and adjustments to alignment and formation requirements in hopes of fixing the most dangerous play of the game. “There’s no question that this is not about getting the kickoff out of the game, it’s about enhancing it.” said Troy Vincent, the leagues executive vice president. Statistics show that concussions were five times more likely to occur at kickoff time in 2017. In 2017, only forty percent of kickoffs were returned. Green Bay Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy had said this specific play is still too dangerous even with its reduction in frequency and will be taken out if it is not made safer.
A safer alternative they are leaning toward is changing the arrangement to make it more like a punt formation which requires more one-on-one blocking with less contact. The league hopes to have a general agreement to allow the competition committee to make new kickoff rules. The NFL has gathered coaches, current and former players and representatives of the NFL Player Association to discuss all parts of player safety. Modifications that are expected to include no running start for the kicking team, three players at most deep downfield for the returning team, at least eight players within fifteen yards of where the ball is kicked, no hitting in the 15-yard zone between where the ball is kicked and the front line of the returning team, and no motion by the kicking team until the ball has been kicked.
This new formation not only protects players but also discourages the use of bigger linemen. The use of bigger linemen often result in dangerous collisions with smaller players. “I will be surprised if we don’t make progress on this play,” stated Falcons president Rich McKay. Owners are expected to vote on this issue and discuss their opinion on May 21-23 when the league meeting takes place in Atlanta. In 2016 commissioner Roger Goodell had threatened to get rid of kickoffs completely if no safer changes were made.