UW Health Sports Medicine 

Safety the key to any kickoff modifications

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Thumbnail image for 100918FB-5590-18.jpgRutgers head coach Greg Schiano has made news recently with a revolutionary proposal to eliminate kickoffs from college football. One of Schiano's players, Eric LeGrand, was paralyzed last season while covering a kickoff vs. Army.

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema, who oversaw special teams early in his head coaching career and still has a hand in it, has long been in favor of reducing the injury risk on kickoffs.

"I do think there are some things we can do to try and limit the amount of full-speed collisions we subject our players to on kickoffs," Bielema said, "whether it's moving the kickoff up to the 35-yard line, which the NFL has done and would lead to more touchbacks and maybe some safety concepts that the NFL has introduced, a lot of which we implemented into the college game last year."

While the onside kick has gained attention as being a potentially dangerous play with more teams moving towards a set up where the first wave of players simply tries to take out the first line of defenders, essentially freeing up their back line to go after the ball, Bielema is more concerned with a full kickoff.

"In an onside kick, you're dealing with 10-yard sprints," Bielema said. "It's the 30- or 40-yard sprints when you've got a full head of steam and the opportunity to blindside somebody that really concern me. Watching the hockey game last night, you can see the consequences when someone is caught off guard with a violent hit they aren't expecting. I think in all sports everyone is looking to reduce the risks in high-speed collisions."

Some have compared eliminating kickoffs to eliminating the center jump after made baskets in the early years of basketball. Men's basketball coach Bo Ryan pointed out that the reason for the center jump because in the early years, the peach baskets that were used had a bottom, so the ball needed to be fished out of the basket before being put back in play.

According to Ryan, the women's physical instruction teacher at Springfield College was the first to suggest taking the bottom out of the basket, thereby eliminating the need for the center jump after each made basket.

That's your nugget for the day.

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