National Football League owners voted to move kickoffs up 5 yards to the 35-yard line in an effort to reduce injuries.
Other rules changes that were adopted today at the owners meeting in New Orleans include allowing referees to review all scoring plays, rather than just during the final two minutes of each half and overtime.
The annual spring meeting is being held a little more than a week after owners shut down the league when negotiations with players failed to yield a new labor agreement. The meeting was shortened, activities were cut back, even a wives luncheon to be held at New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson’s home was canceled.
In addition to moving kickoffs up 5 yards, no member of the kicking team other than the kicker would be allowed to line up more than 5 yards behind the ball so they would get less of a running start.
“There certainly appears to be a lot of injuries related to kickoffs,” said Margot Putukian, director of athletic medicine at Princeton University. “We’re not sure whether it’s the speed or distance they’re covering at a high speed. We want to make the game safe.”
Putukian is on an NFL committee studying how to make sure it is safe for injured players to return to games and was at the meeting. She said teams will check players for spine and brain injuries on the sidelines this season.
The league moved kickoffs to the 30-yard line in 1994 to increase offensive production.
Rich McKay, the Atlanta Falcons president and chairman of the league’s competition committee, said 80 percent of kickoffs resulted in returns last season.
“It could go down to a 70 percent return,” he said at a news conference. “We’ll have to wait and see.”
Owners rejected a proposal to put touchbacks on the 25-yard line because of concern teams would try to kick pop-ups that would land inside the 25 and give the coverage a chance to get there as the ball lands.
“People are probably a little more risk adverse trying to trap you inside the 20,” McKay said.
While the league is preparing as if there will be a 2011 season, the union and owners are arguing over the lockout in court.
U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson in St. Paul will hear arguments April 6 from attorneys for the players, who asked the court to block the lockout in an antitrust lawsuit. NFL owners are arguing that federal court doesn’t have jurisdiction in the matter.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who said he hasn’t spoken to Executive Director DeMaurice Smith since the union disbanded, said the league hasn’t discussed using replacement players in the absence of a new labor accord.
“It hasn’t been considered,” Goodell said at a news conference. “It’s not in our plans.”
Goodell also said the Miami Dolphins and four other teams were fined for illegal contact with players following the end of the 2010 season. He didn’t identify the other teams or the amount of the fines.
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