College football without kickoffs. If you have trouble wrapping your mind around that concept, Mark Richt doesn’t.
Richt said Tuesday at the Peach State Pigskin Preview held at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon that he would support a proposal by Rutgers coach Greg Schiano that the kickoff be eliminated. Schiano’s idea is that kickoffs, considered the most dangerous play in football, would be replaced by a team punting from their own 30-yard line after scores and at the start of each half. If they chose to, they could opt to go for it in a fourth-and-15 play that would serve the same purpose as an onside kick.
As quoted in the Athens Banner-Herald, Richt noted that kickoff plays are violent. “You’ve got a bunch of guys that can run fast and are strong and they are not afraid, it’s kind of a manhood thing. No one’s going to back down.”
It’s easy to see where these coaches are coming from. Rutgers player Eric LeGrand ended up paralyzed from the neck down while covering a kickoff last season. At Georgia, Decory Bryant suffered a broken neck that ended his playing career and just last year freshman T.J. Stripling had a season-ending injury while covering a kickoff.
So it’s not surprising that Richt said, “if it went to a vote, I would vote for no kickoff also. I would just place the ball at the 23-yard line or whatever the average has been. I’m sure the defensive coaches would want it on the 18. Offensive coaches would want it on the 30.”
It’s also not surprising that while coaches might support getting rid of kickoffs, players likely wouldn’t, even if the move is aimed at their safety. As the Dogs’ Christian Robinson said Tuesday, “You don’t just want to line up and play. That first kickoff when the crowd is going wild, that’s part of the game. If you eliminate that, you eliminate part of the game.”
As the Bulldogs Blog reported, even Richt admitted, “It is an exciting play. It’s probably gonna be a bigger story than it should be. I don’t think it’s gonna happen anytime soon, I don’t. It’d be a major, major rule change, no doubt.”
On the surface, you’d think this idea would go about as far as a squib kick. But Rogers Redding, the infamous former Southeastern Conference coordinator of officials and current national coordinator for officiating, told the Birmingham News recently the proposal will be discussed next year by the NCAA Football Rules Committee. “I think it certainly makes sense to explore it,” Redding said. “Player safety is first and foremost on the agenda of the rules committee. I have no doubt this will come to the committee and will get some serious consideration, if for no other reason than it’s intriguing.”
OK, most fans are in favor of emphasizing player safety, but at what point do you start compromising the game beyond repair? And can you really imagine Georgia football without the likes of Gene Washington, Scott Woerner and Lindsay Scott racing down the field returning kickoffs?
Not forgetting, of course, the Dogs’ current kickoff return threat, Brandon Boykin, who is tied for the SEC record, having raced back four kicks for touchdowns in his career. And three of those returns covered the entire 100 yards of the field, the most recent last year at Kentucky.
Do we really want to eliminate that kind of thrill from college football?
That’s not intriguing. That’s crazy.
Christian Robinson at the Macon Pigskin Preview on Georgia’s offseason workouts this year: “We’re working more efficiently right now and we have a mindset. We’re not just lifting weights. We’re lifting weights to win a game on Saturday.” I know we hear that sort of quote every offseason, but I’m hoping this time it more accurately reflects what we’ll actually see on the field come fall.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg