National Football League owners will vote next week on whether to move kickoffs to the 35-yard line from the 30 in an effort to reduce injuries, competition committee chief Rich McKay said.
Other proposed rules changes include allowing referees to review all scoring plays, rather than just during the final two minutes of each half and overtime, and shielding receivers from head shots until they can either protect themselves or clearly become a runner, the league said.
“The injury rate on the kickoff return remains a real concern for us,” McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons, said on a conference call. “This creates a shorter field. It’s a pretty major change.”
Owners will hold their annual spring meeting next week in New Orleans about a week after they shut down the league when negotiations with players failed to yield a new labor agreement. Players have sued the NFL in federal court over the work stoppage. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said he expects the 2011 regular-season schedule will be announced as usual in April.
In addition to moving the kickoff spot, 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.
On kickoffs, touchbacks would result in teams taking possession on the 25-yard-line instead of the 20; out-of-bounds kickoffs would still result in the receiving team taking possession at the 40-yard-line; and all forms of wedge blocks would be prohibited.
The league moved kickoffs to the 30-yard-line in 1994 to increase offensive production.
The competition committee also will suggest some rules clarifications, including one on catches. Receivers are currently required to catch, secure control of the ball and maintain control until they have two feet on the ground or any body part other than their hands touches the ground.
The committee would add that if the receiver goes to the ground in the act of catching the pass, he must maintain control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground.
“You have to put some responsibility on the receiver,” McKay said.
According to the league, the total points scored per game last season was 44.07, eighth highest of all time. Teams also averaged a record 672 yards of offense, and 25.4 percent of games were decided by three or fewer points, the most since 1999.
Ray Anderson, NFL executive vice president of football operations, also said that the league will be more active in suspending players for violating safety rules.
Anderson said repeat offenders over the previous two years will be under special scrutiny.
Several players were fined last season for making hits to the head.
“We are not relenting on this,” Anderson said. “We don’t want to go there (suspensions) but we are prepared to do that. These rules are meant to protect everyone.”
He said “aggressive discipline” will be emphasized.
While the league is preparing as if there will be a 2011 season, the union and owners are battling over the lockout in court.
A challenge by Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and seven other players to the NFL’s labor lockout is set to go before a Minnesota federal court next month. U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson in St. Paul will hear arguments April 6 from attorneys for the NFL players, who asked the court to block the lockout in an antitrust lawsuit.