It appears the "tweak" faction won out with the NFL owners on Tuesday, as it's been announced that in 2011, kickoffs will take place from the 35-yard-line, while touchbacks will remain at the 20-yard-line.
Previously, it had been thought possible that touchbacks could be moved to the 25-yard-line in 2011, but that proposal was met with a storm of vitriol from many people around the league, particularly those teams with strong special teams units.
Some coaches believed -- and rightly so -- that moving touchbacks to the 25-yard-line would affect field position too much.
"Any time there's a touchback and now it's not coming to the 20," Saints coach Sean Payton said, "I think that that probably was the most drastic of the four or five items that constituted one rule."
Then, earlier Tuesday, Marvin Lewis, a member of the Competition Committee, let word leak that there was substantial consideration towards tweaking the rules while still improving player safety.
That tweak has taken place, and now two things remain to be seen. One, will this improve player safety? It seems likely, based on what we know about kickoffs and the strong possibility of increasing touchbacks while also limiting the length at which a wedge can build steam. (This seems like a good time to remind folks that the wedge has NOT been outlawed.)
"The bottom line is it's ... the highest risk of injury play," Saints coach Sean Payton said.
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And two, will this decrease the enjoyment that fans get out of kickoff returns? It seems somewhat likely, since kicking from the 35-yard-line probably means less returns. Though it could increase the flashiness of big gains during kickoffs, thanks to players like Devin Hester being able to break the field wide open.
Speaking of player safety, two other proposals were deferred. First, a proposal to outlaw players launching to make a hit. And two, expanding the definition of a defenseless receiver.
"We didn't feel like there was enough support to get it passed," said Giants owner John Mara, a competition committee member. "A number of people seemed to be, in my opinion, more concerned about flags being thrown for questionable hits. My feeling is, I'm more concerned about needless concussions, so I'm willing to make that trade. But I think we need to go back and just clarify some of the language, maybe to make it a little bit more clear for everybody."
On the replay side of things, all scoring plays will now be subject to a replay by the booth (a rule which passed with a 30-2 vote), which no longer means that coaches need to feel concerned with throwing their red flags on an issue that occurs near the goal line. Additionally, coaches will continue to earn a third challenge if they win their first two, though that was considered as a possibility to be dropped.
Coaches pushed for the change in great part because they felt they didn't get a fair shake in road games.
"It's a real big competitive disadvantage," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "You don't get that look at it on the road that you get at home; they just don't show it."
Oh yes, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the "Boise Rule" -- NFL fields must remain green-colored. The logic here, apparently, is to keep teams from slapping sponsorships onto their surface that would discolor the playing field.
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