NFL Rules Changes: KO and Instant Replay

March 23, 2011 | Brian Billick

Teams voted to move kickoffs from the 30- to 35-yard line and prohibit a running head start of more than five yards for members of the coverage team. The original proposal was to also move the touchback placement to the 25 rather than the 20, but that failed. The NFL also adopted a proposed instant-replay revision that will allow a booth official to review every scoring play regardless of whether either team has replay challenges remaining.

The competition committee expects the number of touchbacks will rise between five to 15 percent with kickoffs being moved to the 35-yard line for the first time since the 1993 campaign.  I believe this is a more dramatic change than those subtle increases indicate.

The difference between a team having to drive 80 yards to score verses starting a drive on the 30 or 35-yard line is substantial.  This may very well change coaches thinking about receiving the opening kickoff should you win the toss.  I think with today’s kickers we will see substantially more touchbacks than the 15% (up to 33% in total) increase anticipated by the committee.

I am not sure the data on injuries of these plays is substantial enough to bring about the rule change.  They also considered not allowing the current two-man wedge, but there was no indication it presented any additional injury risk. I think the League is perhaps just a little hyper focused on the appearance of wanting to maximize player safety at a time they are confronting each other in a new CBA negotiation.

I applaud the instant replay change. In what committee chairman Rich McKay termed a “modernization” of the rule, we are taking another step towards what I have been advocating for a number of years; doing away with the challenge system and let the replay system work strictly from the booth.  We have the technology today to make this seamless and less obtrusive to the game.  I am also encouraged that the vote on this measure was 30-2.  We are getting there.

I hope people appreciate how hard the league and particularly the Competition Committee works at trying to make the game better and safer.  They don’t always get it right, but they are dedicated about the effort.