UnNews:NFL changes rules for safety

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23 March 2011

Other rule changes at the NFL annual meeting will provide for additional padding for players.

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana -- The National Football League has moved the kick-off to the 35-yard line, again changing the rulebook to show that the primary concern in a sport where uneducated, 300-pound players collide with one another at full speed is player safety.

The kick-off is the most exciting play in football, but the return of the ball often leads to concussions. Moving the spot from the 30 to the 35 makes it more likely that the ball will go into the end zone, the referee will whistle the play dead, and the players will defiantly walk away, a crowd-pleasing play that happened 16% of the time last season.

Team owners turned away more drastic changes, such as doing away with the kick-off entirely, in favor of another procedure, such as high-card-wins or just staring at the ball until one of the players becomes the first to break silence.

Kick-off returns have become a specialty, but players in that role were unconcerned that the change would cost their jobs. Seattle Seahawks kick returner Leon Washington said on ESPN, through his agent, "The NFL offers enviable job security, and I'm sure the club will quickly find another role for me." Cleveland Browns standout returner Joshua Cribbs echoed the sentiment, through his publicist. "I never liked returns. They're simply too risky."

Coaches feared the new rule might change the game. Cincinnati Bengals special-teams coach Darrin Simmons said, "There just won't be as many returns....it's going to affect things, like scoring." But that can't be true, as major leagues never artificially goose scoring with gimmicks like the short-lived DH rule in baseball.

The change doesn't affect plays from scrimmage, where all the other concussions occur, but competition committee chairman Rich McKay said these plays might be discontinued too. He insisted, "player safety will always trump any other consideration," which, if it were true, would have players never touch one another at all, but just stand and glare for 60 minutes.

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But the 2011-12 season will be even safer than that, as it now looks as though the players will be spared even that danger. The union representatives seeking an end to the lock-out will do the standing and glaring.

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