The National Football League is radically changing how games will end in the future. Amongst proposals to change overtime rules and to expand replay review in the fourth quarter, the competition committee is meeting to discuss a proposal to virtually eliminate the onside kick. Under this proposal, a team may elect to keep the ball instead of kicking off. The team then starts their drive deep in their own territory facing a 4th-and-15. It certainly has some detractors, but the proposal looks like it could pass.
Changing The Onside Kick Is Not A New Idea
Suggestions to eliminate the onside kick have been talked about for years. In 2012 Greg Schiano, at that time the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, made a suggestion to wholly eliminate kickoffs. Under his plan, kickoffs would be replaced entirely with a 4th-and-15 starting position. However, many teams would elect to punt during traditional game situations. This year, the newly-founded American Alliance of Football (AAF) has eliminated the kickoff entirely. Still, they have their own version of the onside kick, where a team can choose to keep the ball. The AAF has a similar rule to that being proposed in the NFL. The kicking team must immediately face a 4th-and-12. These plays have had some success, and are a source of intrigue for the new league and could change the way the game is played (and bet on ( legally now, thank god, on NJ Sports betting apps, for example)) especially come playoff time.
Onside kick? Won't happen here.
— The Alliance (@TheAAF) February 24, 2019
The NFL’s proposal looks moderate compared to these two suggestions. Kickoffs will still exist, no punting or giving the ball to your opponent on a automatic touchback. In theory, trick-play onside kicks will still exist but most of the time teams will be able to keep their offense on the field in pivotal moments late in games.
Onside Kicks Are Already Dying
This solution comes after a season of controversy for the NFL in regards to their handling of late-game situations. Primarily, the fact that NFL rule changes just this past year made onside kicks near-impossible. In 2017, the onside kick was still viable with a success rate of 23%. Not a guaranteed success by any means, but still a useful play for teams losing in the fourth quarter. In 2018, the NFL instituted new safety rules preventing kicking teams from stacking players on one side of the kicker, and banned them from getting a running start. As a result, the success rate of onside kicks plummeted to just 8%.
When there is no chance for losing teams to come back, games get boring. The proposal is far from a guarantee as well, as teams rarely convert on 4th down plays with 10 or more yards to go. Still, it is possible, and it is exciting. This season’s playoff games were often critiqued as boring, partially due to the fact that many losing teams had no realistic way to score in back-to-back possessions without the winning team running down the clock. The NFL could use the added excitement at the end of games.
A Change Covers The League’s Problems
Furthermore, the NFL has to be feeling some anxiety with other controversial game finishes. In the AFC Championship game, the NFL overtime rules were blasted for not allowing the reigning MVP Pat Mahomes to see the field at the end of the game. Similarly, there was a lot of noise created by Cody Parkey’s “double-doink” in which fans wondered why their entire season could end because of a kicker. To be clear, this proposal won’t change overtime rules or reduce the impact of missing a game-winning kick, but it will put the fate of the game back into the offense’s hands instead of a hamstrung special teams squad. After all, isn’t that how games are supposed to end?
— NFL (@NFL) January 14, 2019