The violent, car accident-type collisions on kickoffs prompted the NFL to institute new rules in 2011 by having teams kick off from the 35-yard-line rather than the 30.
In the first year, the number of kick returns were cut in half. The NCAA followed suit in 2012 and also gave the receiving team an incentive to field a touchback by moving the offense’s starting point from the 20 to the 25-yard line.
High school football has no universal rule on kickoffs. While the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) is the largest organizing body of high school sports with 18,500 members, its membership roster doesn’t include thousands of private schools and other public schools across the country.
Dr. Gad Klein, a neuropsychologist at the Long Island Concussion Center at Neurological Surgery, believes setting universal rules and regulations for high school sports is a difficult task. “I think it will take much longer (than the NCAA and NFL) because the various school districts and private schools slow down the pace at which rules can be enforced,” Klein said.
Todd Nelson, assistant director for The New York State Public High School Athletic Association, notes the changes the NFL and NCAA made to kickoffs, but doesn’t foresee any immediate changes at the high school level. “We have not been informed of any plans coming down from the NFHS about modifying, or eliminating kickoffs,” he said.
Bob Colgate, The National Federation of State High School Associations Director of Sports and Sports Medicine, says his sports medical advisory committee continues to evaluate the kickoff and will have a discussion about modifying it in October. “We are a federation,” Colgate said. “The NFL can mandate rule changes and the NCAA can, but we cannot.”
The perception that high school players being smaller than NFL players makes them less susceptible to high impact hits and concussions is simply wrong, Klein says. The still-developing brains of younger, high school athletes is the precise reason why all schools should evaluate the risk of high-impact plays like kickoffs.
“If you have a 5-foot-6 player running full speed into another 5-foot-6 player, they share the same risk as the 260 pound professional athlete,” Klein said. “Just because they (NFL and NCAA) are making changes doesn’t mean we have to make those changes. We have different athletes that aren’t as developed as the college level and professional level athletes, so it’s wrong to make the comparison, Colgate said.”
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