The Further Chickification Of The NFL

I wrote a column some time back on the chickification of the NFL.  How the league with all it’s new rules was turning more into flag football.  It seems to be getting worse.

Don’t touch this guy between here and here.  Don’t practice twice a day in pads.  Don’t hit a guy really hard.  Well the league has decided to change the rules for kickoffs, allegedly for safety, but some in the NFL think there’s a greater purpose entirely.  I just think they are turning football into something barely a step above flag football.

The new kickoff rules state that kickoffs have to be taken from the 35 instead of the 30.  The reasoning is that those kickoffs would then mostly result in touchbacks resulting in reduced injuries to players.  From what I’ve seen so far in the preseason, teams are adjusting in order to keep the run back in the game.  Especially teams that rely on that sort of thing to boost their game.  Like the Chicago Bears.  They refused to kick from the 35 in their first preseason game.  They kicked every time from the 30.  They were of course informed after the game by the NFL that they were to cease and desist this action.  But teams like the Bears who rely on playmaker Devin Hester in run back situations, are not happy with this rule.

But then neither are other teams.  Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said in a media conference on Tuesday that the NFL wants to eliminate, that’s right eliminate kickoffs entirely.  He said, “That’s what they told us.  I’m not speaking for anyone else. That’s what they told us, that they want to eliminate the play.”  That’s a big statement.  And one that I personally think is probably true.

Belichick went on to say, “If, instead of covering 60 kickoffs in a year you think you’re only going to be covering 30, then is that coverage player as important, or — on the flip side of it — is the return game?” Belichick asked (presumably in the rhetorical sort of way). “If you’re going to be returning 30 instead of 60, are the guys who block on the kickoff return (as important)?  If you think you’re going to be returning more punts than kickoffs (there’s a decision to weigh). Usually you’re going to be returning more kickoffs than punts but if you think you’ll be returning more punts than kickoffs, then maybe you put more of a priority on your punt returner than your kickoff returner.”

For teams who have relied on kick returns as an integral part of their game are going to fundamentally have to change their game plans.  Other teams who have spent high draft picks on possible kick returners are now going to be looking elsewhere for that draft pick.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello had this to say in response, “(Chairman of the Competition Committee) Rich McKay and (NFL Vice President) Ray Anderson say that’s not accurate. They said the Competition Committee’s position was that they wanted to ‘shorten the field’ and that the movement of the kickoff line would potentially reduce the number of kickoffs to be returned. They said they are unaware of anyone saying that it was intended to ‘eliminate’ the kickoff return.”

But in reality, that’s just what it does.  Or at the very barest minimum, it eliminates it as a game impacting play and therefore eliminates the need for a game impacting player and game impacting schemes built around the kickoff.  It’s just that simple.  So, for all intents and purposes it eliminates the kickoff as having any relevance in the game.

The NFL has been criticized, even by me, for failing to address injury issues.  Like concussions.  But if you keep making rules that fundamentally change the game, then the game becomes something else.  The kickoff rules are just one more step in the further chickification of the NFL….one wonders where it will end.

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