Joe Knows

If there’s something that we should all be able to reach a consensus on, it’s that football is a dangerous game. Heck, even congress would agree on that.

But while the violent nature of the game is a given, the best way of how to ensure player safety remains elusive for rules makers in the NCAA and the NFL.

Increasing equipment, decreasing equipment, eliminating equipment, practicing without pads and speaking up when hurt —a novel idea — have all been discussed as a possible way to reduce injuries without affecting the integrity of the game.

One thing that is certain is that phasing out the most exciting play in the game is not the answer.

This year in college football, kickoffs have been moved up to the 35-yard line and touchbacks come out to the 25-yard line.

Besides the fact that these new rules trivialize one-third of the game in special teams, it eliminates the most exciting play — the onside kick. This year, members of the receiving team merely have to raise their hand for a fair catch to claim the ball—even if it’s on the ground.

Despite the NCAA’s attempts at safety, severe injuries continue to pile up. Saturday’s Tulane-Tulsa game was a prime example of this.

The violence we see in football is nothing new, but is actually improved from the game’s humble beginnings. In the early years, even death was not uncommon during Saturdays in autumn. In 1905 alone, 19 college players died from injuries sustained on the football field. Last year, only one death resulted from a hit in practice.

Fortunately, we’ve come a long way  from the blood bath that football was in the early part of the 20th century, but there’s still a long way to go.

Former Rutgers and current Buccaneers’ coach Greg Schiano proposed a plan while at Rutgers a year ago that went so far as to abolish the kickoff and replace it with a punt from the 30-yard line.

Instead of being overzealous in vilifying the kickoff, perhaps we shouldn’t ignore the elephant in the room — the vicious head-to-head collisions that occur each play.

Players have been equally guilty in their dissonance.

While thousands of players file lawsuits against the NFL for not adequately addressing concussions, numerous players are wrapping or even suing the league for taking a strong stand in its ruling of the New Orleans Saints’ play-for-pay scandal.

Partly a byproduct of an overly litigious society perhaps, the lawsuits highlight the players’ denial of the game’s inherent violence. They must be aware of the dangers involved when signing up and that the most likely way to stay out of harm’s way is not to play.

As Vince Lombardi once said, “Football is not a contact sport, it is a collision sport.”

And that includes kickoffs.

 

JOE CUNEO

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