Could the kickoff go away soon? Maybe, the NFL has considered it and now Dennis Dodd reports that the American Football Coaches Association and NCAA are in the early stages of discussing such a change.
While there is not conclusive data that the kickoff is the play where there is the greatest danger of injury, there is enough evidence that the discussion is taking place.
Pop Warner youth football has eliminated kickoffs by simply placing the ball at the offense's 35 yard line to start each half and after each score.
That is likely a change to great to have the support of coaches or fans. It would eliminate the possibility of the kicking team gaining possession, a vital gasp of hope for a team trailing late in a game or a potential surprise move to change momentum earlier in a game.
Former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano has suggested that the ball be placed at the kicking team's 30 yard line, the kicking team instead of kicking off would have one play from scrimmage and could either punt or could retain possession and a first down by gaining 15 yards.
Starting from the 30 and punting would likely increase scoring because it would result in better field position. Utah led the nation last year in net punting with a 43.7 yard per punt average and that was more than a full yard better than any other team. Utah's opponents would have on average started on the 26 yard line. Based on last year's net punting stats most teams would see their opponent on average start at the 33 or better.
From an excitement standpoint, the touchback would be an extremely rare event.Last year only 27 punters had a kick go 70 or more yards. There may have been more that were kicked from a shorter distance and went in the books as something less than 70.
Preserving the chance to get the ball back would create an exciting play. Gaining 15 yards in one play would be an interesting challenge, keep in mind that 97 teams averaged 5 or more yards per play (two incomplete passes and a 15 yard completion is a 5 yard per play average). The Red Wolves averaged 5.5 yards per play, 56th best yards per play in FBS. Baylor, North Carolina, and WKU tied for first at 7.1 yards per play.
Coaches would have the choice of running a play from scrimmage or running a fake punt play to keep the element of surprise. In a late game situation running out of a traditional offensive set would likely improve the odds of converting when everyone knows it is coming.
One thing unmentioned in the discussion so far. Could a team attempt a field goal? A 77 yard field goal is very improbable given that the longest successful field goal without a tee kicking to 18'6" uprights in a game that counted is 64 yards but has done three times (Denver Broncos, UTEP, and Tarleton State) but opportunities to even attempt a kick that long are rare given the great field position that results from a miss. A team with a great kicker and the wind might be tempted to take a crack at it with just seconds remaining and tied or trailing by three or less.
Eliminating kickoffs may never happen just as past proposals to eliminate extra points or to have a kickoff to start each quarter have been debated and in the end discarded. You have to hope that if kickoffs are eliminated that the people in charge of the game find a way to preserve the drama and excitement.