Tackling changes for football

FOOTBALL is popular, but there are a few changes might help preserve its appeal and make for safer, more exciting contests (Shutterstock).

American football, as it is played now, is the grandchild of the original “association football,” and may soon be headed back to its roots.

Although games involving kicking spheroids have been around for centuries and perhaps longer, it became soccer in the 1820s in England. As popular as it was and is, it had an offspring called rugby. As with baseball – incorrectly credited to Abner Doubleday – the sport of rugby’s origins are based on myth.

According to the story, in 1823 during a soccer game at Rugby School in Warwickshire, a player – frustrated with not being able to use his hands in the game – picked up the ball and ran with it.

That’s almost certainly a fib, but rugby is considered the father of American football, as well as variants in Ireland, Australia and Canada.

Despite its huge popularity and cultural influence, all is not well in the world of the pigskin. NFL TV ratings are showing slight reductions, after years of steady rises. Concerns about safety, especially brain injuries, have led to a sharp decline in kids playing tackle football, and most colleges in Southern California don’t even have a football team.

Football may not be broke – yet – but it could probably use a tuck here and there.

Here are some of the ideas that have been promoted, and in some cases, actually tried at one level or another.

  • Offer an alternative to the onside kick in which instead the team would get a 4th and 15 shot from its own 25 yard line. Call it the “Hail Mary play.” Advocates claim it would be more exciting for fans and sustain interest late in the game, putting the matter in the hands of a quarterback rather than the toe of a kicker.
  • Requiring that linemen start the play standing up, rather than in a three- or four-point stance. The idea is that players won’t be leading with their heads and helmets, thereby reducing the chance of brain injury.
  • Banning using the top of his helmet to strike any part of an opponent’s body. To make identifying an offender easier, have that part of the helmet be a different color.
  • Reducing full-contact practice to a maximum of two days a week. It’s remarkable how many players are hurt in practice.
  • On a punt or kickoff, the only players allowed to move until the ball is caught are the kicker and the person returning the kick. The goal is to allow for longer kick returns and more excitement.
  • Adopting the college rule of just one foot inbounds to make a sideline catch complete.

Some even more radical proposals include:

  • Banning downfield blocks to encourage longer, more exciting plays.
  • Alter ­– or even eliminate – helmets to avoid the temptation to use them as a battering ram against a defender or a weapon against a ball carrier. Rugby and soccer players don’t wear helmets.

Some of these proposed changes may seem gimmicky, but football has always been a game in flux. The forward pass, numbered uniforms, faceguards, and two-platoon teams were once considered new and suspicious departures from the traditional game.

Heed the words of that old football genius, Charles Darwin. Adapt or get fired.

“Wild World of Sports” is posted on Mondays.


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