Today's modern football player is a genetic freak: a well-equipped, well-nourished, honed, trained machine of lethality ensconced in thirteen pounds of body armor.
To this machine, add repeated impacts that frequently exceed the threshold of 40 mph car collisions -- and pull more Gs than an F16 fighter pilot
At 5 ft. 11 in. and 199 pounds, Marcus Trufant is an average-size NFL defensive back (DB). Those stats don't stand out in a league where more than 500 players weighed 300-plus pounds at the 2006 training camps. But a DB's mass combined with his speed -- on average, 4.56 seconds for the 40-yard dash -- can produce up to 1600 pounds of tackling force, according to Timothy Gay, a physics professor at the University of Nebraska and author of The Physics of Football.
Is it any wonder, then, especially when traumatic head injuries are such a concern, that all levels of football are looking for ways to minimum impacts from these human missiles? From rules governing linemen, to hits on quarterbacks and receivers, to decreased practice time, to no-contact practices, bylaws and rules have been springing up for the better part of a decade.
The latest bandied-about proposal to soon come down the pipe is one that eliminates easily the most violent play in the sport: kick returns. Statistically, it is not even close -- returns account for far more traumatic injuries than any other single snap on the field.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby addressed the issue yesterday:
Preliminary discussions have begun within two influential college football bodies into possibly removing kickoffs from the game, CBS Sports has learned. Both the American Football Coaches Association's board of trustees and the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee have at least had informal talks about the possibility.
The reason: player safety. "I don't think there is any doubt it is the most dangerous play in the game," said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, chairman of that oversight committee. "How much that's the case and how we can fix it is unknown."
From the Dodd article, Pop Warner youth football has already eliminated the return for all players aged 10 and under. It is only a matter of time until other tiers give the proposal serious concern, as the AFCA and the NCAA have started having discussions about the matter. No one wants to see the game fundamentally changed, of course; and, player safety has to be the paramount concern. But, as with a century ago, legislation and litigation could very well make those modifications to the game, willingly or otherwise.
Breathless, game-changing moments, as we saw in the College Football Playoff Title Game, may soon go the way of the leather helmet.
Let's enjoy it one more time...while we still can.
An hour after I posted this, Coach Nick Saban was on CFB Live and was asked about kickoffs:
“Well, I think that anything involving player’s safety, you have to respect,” Saban said. “I’m a traditionalist, so I would hate to see them change, or take out the kickoff or change rules that would significantly impact the game. But when it comes to player’s safety, I think that trumps all of the above. Maybe move the yard line where you get more kicks kicked out of the end zone (…) There is strategy involved in kickoffs and kickoff returns that is pretty significant to the game, but again, player’s safety trumps it all. There may be other ways to solve the problem so you can still kick an onside kick or do something that doesn’t change the strategy of the game as much.”