GRIZ GRIT: Reducing Violent Collisions

By Beacon Staff

You hear it all the time.

Today’s athletes are bigger, faster and stronger. And in contact sports, just the sheer size of the players and the velocity at which they run leads to more violent collisions.

In fact, there are few sports where the impacts have not increased. And while equipment improvements continue to evolve in an attempt to decrease catastrophic occurrences, little can be done to reduce the dangerous collisions.

When players run into each other in an effort to make a play, you just hope it leaves a mark and doesn’t become a life-changing event.

But as reported in a recent column in the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger and picked up by SI.com, perhaps something should be done to keep football players from sprinting half the length of a football field before engaging in a violent collision.

Rutgers coach Greg Schiano says the answer is as simple as eliminating the kickoff and he pitched his idea to his Big East Conference coaching counterparts last month.

Heresy cries the naysayers. The kickoff is a basic element of football and produces some of the games’ most exciting plays. And injuries are just part of the game.

So just how exciting are kickoffs, which in Schiano’s plan would be replaced by punts?

According to Andy Staples at SI.com, since the line of scrimmage for a kickoff was placed at the 30-yard line, almost 80 percent of kicks have been returned, while just 40 percent of punts are returned.

Less than 1 percent of either a kickoff or a punt is returned for a touchdown, so that seems to make little difference, but herein lies the body saver.

On a punt, most players are matched up down the field toward the returner, not running full-steam half the length of the field. Thus, collisions are less violent or unexpected, also leaving a player less vulnerable.

Punting is way less predictable than kickoffs and depends more on increased athletic skill.

Not only does it require an accurate and high-velocity snapper, there are plenty of things that can happen when a punter kicks the football, versus a kicker who approaches an object on a tee.

Eliminating kickoffs also would eliminate the catch-up onside kick, which arguably has become the most dangerous play in the game.

A variety of schemes have been designed to bring more blockers to the area where the kick is headed than there are opposing players.

Their job is simple – eliminate anyone trying to field the ball by overpowering them with people, thus allowing a second wave of players to try to fetch the pigskin.

The hands team is on the first wave of receivers and in most cases is made up of smaller, more athletic players than the behemoths headed their direction.

Schiano’s plan here is to give the team that just scored an additional catch-up opportunity to call a single play – maybe for a required 15 yards – to retain possession of the football.

I believe that would drastically alter the game and I’m not so sure that’s the answer, but I’m betting there are other viable possibilities to consider.

Such rule changes will not occur quickly and possibly not at all. But while I remain a proponent of physical contact, I also want to find a way to reduce the violent and unexpected collisions.

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