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2011 NFL Rules Changes: Why? Why now?

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So I have a question for the NFL Competition Committee: You do realize there's a lock-out going on right now, right? It would seem to me that trying to change the rules of a game that, as of right now, doesn't exist is a little silly. The 2011 season, if it happens, is already going to go hold a lot of changes. A new CBA will mean a new pay scale for rookies and veterans alike. If the lock-out lasts like as long as it is expected to, then players will have a shortened off-season in which to prepare. Free agents could be coming into teams as late as July and the free agent market is chock full of loads of talented players. There will be a scramble for talent, and a mad dash to teach everything that needs to be taught to players, both new and old. Still, with all this chaos, the rules committee decides it's necessary to move kickoffs up five yards and do whatever they can to promote taking a touchback. With all the turmoil already happening in the NFL, why would the rules committee decide to change special teams, a full 1/3 of the game of football so dramatically? And more importantly, why change the game now?

I've always been of the opinion that kickoffs and punt returns are the most exciting plays in a football game. When else do you see an offensive player with so much space in front of him as he has during a kick return? It's really the play where anything can happen, and yes, players hit hard, but just think how exciting it is to see Devin Hester bring in a kick and just scoot. I remember the year he set the return record, I watched Bears highlights every week to see if Devin had done it again. Truth be told, that team was frustratingly incompetent on offense. I wouldn't have watched a single second of their games if I could help. That is, until Hester got a chance to return a punt or a kick. Then it was exciting. Very exciting.

But these proposed rules changes would make players like Hester pretty much useless. If a touchback puts the ball on the 25 yard line, and you can't even have a two person wedge, who is going to even bother returning kicks anymore? The average return was around 20-23 yards when the kicker was at the 30. There's no reason to try now. As for Hester, does anyone consider Devin Hester a legitimate receiver? No, he's a return specialist, and these new rules could easily run return specialists out of the game. The funny thing is, college football just recently moved the spot on kickoffs back five yards from the 35 to the 30 in 2007, and now the NFL is trying to move their kickoffs back up.

Let's not forget that this is also coming at a time when a significant portion of defensive players and fans are complaining about the softening of the game of football. So again I have to ask. Why? Why now? If these are changes you really want to make to the game, then give the NFL some time to figure things out first, end the lock-out and get back to business as usual. Propose these rules changes next year, when it won't become part of the dispute between the owners and players as I'm assuming it will be now.

I'm sure the NFL will say it is a measure designed to protect the health of special teams players, but as much as it is protecting their health, it is endangering their jobs. Why pay Devin Hester, Josh Cribbs, or even a guy like Kassim Osgood to play special teams when the rules are being changed to discourage returns altogether? At a moment when so much is in flux, making drastic changes is not an attractive proposal. In a situation where the players are refusing to even talk with the NFL, the league needs to try and convince the players that this is still the game they grew up loving to play. Yes, the NFL wants to make football safer for the players, but these rules changes, and especially making these changes now, is a bad idea.