Wednesday, April 6, 2011

NFL Kickoff Returns to 35

In one of the biggest changes in the game over the past decade, NFL owners voted 26-6 to return kickoffs to the 35, not the 30 as it has been since 1994. The reason for the change is safety, as the kickoff is probably the most dangerous play in the game. The difference should be quite noticeable: in 1993, 31.6 percent of all kickoffs were touchbacks, while in 1994 the number dropped to 11.6. Kickoff return TDs also climbed from 4 to 17. In 2009, touchbacks were 19.3 percent. and 2010 17 percent. The odds are pretty good that touchbacks will be close to 40 percent next season (if it is played.)

The change in 1994 was radical beyond mere kickoffs: by shortening the field, scoring went up as did TDs, which has helped turn NFL passing stats to resemble Playstation numbers. Likewise, much of the controversy over OT rules is due to the shortened field making it easier for teams to score, making the need for both teams having possession a necessity for competitive fairness. It'll be interesting to see how moving the kickoff up will change the game in unforeseen ways...

NFL changes kickoffs, replay rules
John Clayton
March 22, 2011

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