Kickoffs: Keep them or abolish them?

semerson@macon.comDecember 19, 2012 

ATHENS - When Georgia recruit Tramel Terry was tore his ACL in the Shrine Bowl on Saturday, the reaction in many quarters was to say it was another reason for these players not to participate in All-Star Games. That's a valid debate to have, but here's another part of it:

Terry was injured on the opening kickoff. The kickoff remains the play with the most instances of injury, which is why both the NFL and college football have taken steps to minimize the play. (Moving the kickoff to the 35, and touchbacks up to the 25, in the case of college football.)

But the drastic step of eliminating kickoffs is still favored in some quarters. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell raised the possibility recently, and Georgia head coach Mark Richt reiterated this week that he could live with that solution.

"I would not be against, I wouldn't be throwing a fit if they said: Just put the ball at the 25. Start playing football," Richt said. "A lot of people think it's crazy. But it wouldn't bother me. I don't know if you said: You're in charge, you decide, I'd probably have to think long and hard about it. But if somebody in charge said that was the rule, I'd say OK, I can live with that."

Richt has had several players suffer serious injuries on kickoffs. Two years ago then-freshman T.J. Stripling tore his knee on a kickoff at Colorado. And back in 2003, Georgia's Decory Bryant suffered a career-ending neck injury on a kickoff.

Greg Schiano, while Rutgers' head coach in 2011, pushed a proposal to replace the kickoff with a set play from the 30: The team that just scored would have one play to get 15 yards, or it could punt. Schiano, now the head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was reacting to the fact that his player Eric LeGrand was paralyzed on a kickoff.

But getting rid of kickoffs remains a controversial, and probably unpopular, notion. It's an exciting play for fans, and even coaches.

Georgia assistant coach Kirk Olivadotti is in charge of the team's kickoff coverage. He wouldn't want to see the play go away.

"There's going to be high-speed collisions no matter what you do in the game," he said. "I think it is part of the game. I'm probably a little bit of a purist as far as that goes."

Olivadotti also pointed out that some steps have been taken to make it safer, such as eliminating wedge-blocking - where two players block one opponent.

"At the end of the day, shoot, it's out of my pay grade, whatever they tell us to do we'll do," Olivadotti said. "But it's an exciting play, it's a play that I know there's guys that started their playing career at Georgia. Or shoot, in the NFL, there's guys that played for me for seven years making a million a year and they covered kickoffs and punts. That's what they did. So guys make a living off doing that stuff too, so that might be where having a kickoff team is important.

"So that's where I'd lean personally. I do understand the injury aspect. You're never gonna eliminate injuries. But you want to limit them as much as you can."

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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