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Make-It, Take-It?

The NFL competition committee is considering a rule change to the kick-off as a way to replace the onside kick which has dropped in effectiveness from 16% to 10% due to player safety rule changes to the kick-off.

The proposed rule gives the kickoff team a chance to retain possession of the ball after a touchdown by giving them the option to try to convert 4th and 15 from their own 25-yard line. If they succeed, they keep the ball. If they fail, the opposing team takes over on the spot.

This rule is designed to give a team trailing late in the game a chance to get the ball back quickly in order to catch up, but should teams trailing by two or more scores be guaranteed automatic chances to catch up? This is like in some youth baseball leagues, where they stop counting the runs of the leading team once they are ahead by 10 runs, or guarantee that the trailing team always bats around the order for the same purpose as this new rule, to keep the game close.

Although the use of the onside kick has become commonplace, the original rule which led to the modern-day onside kick was not put in place to give a trailing team a chance to catch up. The modern-day onside kick and its uses evolved out of a rule that was already in place. The rule that opened the door to the onside kick was created when the rule makers had to decide whether a kicked-off ball not fielded by the receiving team was live or dead. They determined it was a live ball, and either team can recover and take possession of the ball.

Coaches saw the potential of that rule as a way for a trailing team late in the game to get the ball back quickly, or steal a possession earlier in the game, and they began using it in those ways. So the fact that the NFL instituted some player safety rules on the kick-off which reduced the effectiveness of the onside kick should not compel the NFL to pass a gimmicky new rule which perverts the game to replace the less effective onside kick.

First, how are they calling it 4th & 15? Don’t you need 1st, 2nd & 3rd down to get to 4th down? Doesn’t just magically creating a 4th down seem contrived. Why is it 15 yards? Because the success rate of 4th & 15 is similar to that of the old onside kick. So, if the success rate for this play goes up or down, are they going to make the distance to gain longer or shorter? Doesn’t that seem contrived? Why is the 16% conversion rate of the old onside kick the ideal? 10% conversion rate for a trailing team to steal a possession late in the game seems pretty fair to me. Why is it 4th & 15, and not 3rd & 20? Why not just give the kickoff team the ball 1st & 10? You’re giving them the ball anyway.

If this rule passes, teams like Kansas City may use it early in the game when leading to steal a possession. Some have suggested not allowing teams to use it in that situation. You cannot keep creating and jerry-rigging rules to ensure that every game is close and exciting. The games will appear fake and contrived.

If we are creating plays out of thin air, why don’t we just add seconds to the clock to give trailing teams a chance to catch-up? Y.A. Title used to say, “I never lost, I just ran out of time.” Adding time to the clock could make every game closer.

The NFL shouldn’t put in place gimmicks that in the last two minutes could negate what happened in the first 58 minutes. The losing team did nothing to deserve that chance. Are there other rules they should put in place to give the losing team a chance to catch-up? How about a 3-point play on the PAT from the 10-yard line? Or a 4-point play on the PAT from the 20-yard line? Or a 5-point play on the PAT from the 30-yard line? Therefore, if you’re down by 11 late in the game, it’s still a one score game. You could institute a rule that when trailing by three scores, a touchdown would equal 14 points. All these jerry-rigging of the score would keep games close and exciting, but would make as much sense as this new rule.

A team that gets their ass kicked for 58 minutes is rewarded with an opportunity to catch up after scoring vs a prevent defense? Why don’t we just do away with the first 58 minutes of the game all together? We should just play the last two minutes. Whoever wins the toss, gets the ball, down by two with two minutes, and play it out. That’s what this rule is designed to get to anyway. Not playing the first 58 minutes would really increase player safety. Why wouldn’t we do this when we are creating arbitrary contrived rules designed to render the first 58 minutes of the game innocuous, anyway? This seems more honest.

This rule would be like going back to the old center jump after baskets in basketball, but only after the trailing team scores with two minutes left. Makes zero sense.

Many years ago, the NBA changed the “1 and 1” rule because trailing teams were manipulating that rule by intentionally fouling to get back into the game. The league felt it important for teams to earn their way back into the game, not do so by manipulating the rules. So why would the NFL create a rule giving the trailing team an opportunity to get back into the game without earning it?

If you’re down late in the game and you want to catch up, how about playing defense, get a 3 & out, create a fumble, block a punt, get a big return, make plays. In short, play football. And if there is not enough time left to catch up playing football, don’t look to the league to create some arbitrary rule to help you catch up, just take your lumps and play better next time.

This new rule may make some games more exciting, but isn’t it better to let the outcome occur organically within the existing rules, the player’s abilities to make plays, and each coach’s game management decisions? Not create rules which artificially create certain desired results in an attempt to keep the game close and exciting. This is professional football, not everyone gets a trophy little league.

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Judd Garrett is a former NFL player, coach and executive. He is a frequent contributer to the website Real Clear Politics, and has recently published his first novel, No Wind