The kickoff is both one of the most exciting and most dangerous plays in football. Several times in the course of a game, players line up, hurl themselves downfield as fast they can, and then collide with other players. Kickoffs result in the highest number of injuries and, according to the NFL, injuries and concussions during kickoffs actually rose last year, despite rule changes in previous years.
On Wednesday, NFL team owners, wary of the league’s image crisis about player safety, voted to change a rule that would discourage teams from running the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs. The new rule, which will be tested out for the 2016 season, gives the receiving team the ball at the 25-yard line instead of the 20-yard line on a touchback.
Back in 2011, as some were proposing banning kickoffs altogether, the league moved the kickoff up to the 35-yard line from the 30-yard line to ensure that more kicks would end up in the end zone. While touchbacks did increase, kick returners were still tempted to take the ball out.
“I feel like we get past the 20-yard line no matter what,” Leon Washington, one of the league’s premiere kickoff returners in 2011, said at the time. “We’re going to do business as usual.”