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The NFL’s New Kickoff Rule Sparks Change in the League

Courtesy of Adam Hunger/Associated Press

If you watch American football, you know about the kickoff. The rumble of the fans, the cheers from the teams on the sidelines, the kicker taking practice kicks right behind the 35-yard line–all of this leads to one of the most exciting parts of the game. Since the NFL was started in 1920, kickoff has been pretty much the same. However, at the annual NFL owners' meeting in Florida a week ago, personnel voted 29-3 in favor of drastically changing the game's kickoffs. Will this benefit the league or damage the game's legacy?

So, What's New?

Basically everything. While the ball for standard kickoffs will still be placed at the 35-yard line, nearly everything else will be different. The return team will have approximately nine blockers in the "set-up zone" between the 30 and 35-yard line. Only up to two returners will be allowed inside the twenty yard-line, with the other seven touching the 35 yard-line. Only the kicker and two returners will be permitted to move before the ball touches the ground or is touched by a returner inside the 20 yard-line. 

If the ball is in the air and reaches the end zone, the returner can choose to do a touchback, but instead of the ball being placed at the 25, it will be set at the 30 yard-line. If the touchback isn't opted for, the returner can also return the ball up the field.

If the ball hits the returner or hits the ground when rolling into the end zone, it can be called for a touchback at the 20-yard line, or the kick can be returned. If the kick isn't good and goes out of bounds before the end zone or landing zone, the receiving team gets the ball at the 40-yard line.

What About Onside Kicks?

Even with these changes, another huge one will be made; this time, it concerns onside kicks. Previously, any team could call for a surprise onside kick, which occurs when the kicking team propels the ball in a shorter direction. The ball must travel ten yards before the kicking team can legally recover the ballWith the new rules, there can no longer be any surprise onside kicks; all onside kicks must now be previously announced before the play has taken place.

However, this new onside-kick rule is expected to have little influence. Overall, there have only been five successful onside kicks in a game's first three quarters in the last five seasons.

Courtesy of the Associated Press

Why Change the Rules?

The changes come amidst a push for more exciting–and safer–football. Last season led to a new low with only 21.8% of kicks being returned; most returners just called for a fair catch. The return rate is down from 80% in 2010 after the NFL made rules relating to technique, blocking, and touchbacks.

These changes, both new and old, have been put in place in an attempt to protect players, as kickoffs were the most dangerous play in terms of concussions due to the high-speed collisions that often took place.

The NFL hopes this new rule will lessen the number of injuries while increasing the number of returns. If this plan works, the game will be safer and more exciting.

What Do People Think?

Almost every NFL owner voted to change the kickoff rules, and listening to their statements after the vote shows why. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said, "I think we're still going to have to tinker with it. But I think it'll be a big improvement and bring the play back to being a relevant play."

Because the new rules will make the game much more exciting, Coach Andy Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs, who just won Super Bowl LVIII, said about the change, "You have 2000 dead plays. People don't want to see that. Coaches don't want to coach that. Players don't want to play that."

"We're in business of creating an entertaining product, and putting a product on the field that should be competitive in every moment. And we created a play that was no longer competitive," NFL competition committee chairman Rich McKay said. "Yes, it's a big change. But the time has come to make that change."

While the new kickoff changes will make football different from what you grew up watching, they will also allow players to have an added hedge of protection while on the field, making the game more exciting to watch. It will definitely need some tweaks, and there will surely be failures along the way, but this new era of football will be one to watch. 

Courtesy of Matt Patterson/Associated Press

Edited By: Juliana Long

Social Media Content Created By: Brianna Huffmaster

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