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CFL forming subcommittee to study potential kickoff changes

Published

When it comes to dealing with potential changes to kickoffs and kick returns, the Canadian Football League has decided to punt for this upcoming season.

So to speak.

After an off-season of debate and discussion about how to reduce injuries sustained on returns, the league is striking a subcommittee to study the issue further, with an aim to approve any changes in time for the 2025 season.

Kickoffs and returns have become a hot topic in football on both sides of the border due to concerns about the high rate of injuries sustained on plays where coverage teams run half the length of the field at full speed.

The NFL made one of the most radical rule changes in its recent history in March when it voted to adopt what’s known as the “XFL model” kickoff, where members of a coverage team line up on the opposing 40-yard line and must remain stationary until the ball hits the ground or is fielded.

That model, which was one of two options discussed by the CFL in the off-season, will be closely followed by the CFL during the upcoming NFL season, and reconsidered this off-season. Another proposal would allow teams to scrimmage from their own 40-yard line after having a touchdown scored against them instead of receiving a kickoff.

Other options could be brought to the table next off-season as well.

CFL teams already have the option of scrimmaging on their own 40-yard line after field goals, with teams choosing the former option roughly 96 per cent of the time last season. Providing that option after both field goals and touchdowns could result in games where the only kick returns happen at the beginning of each half.

Potential changes to kickoffs and returns are an especially important subject for the CFL, given the important role returners have traditionally played in the Canadian game.

These changes, unlike other recent rule modifications introduced by the league, have nothing to do with improving the entertainment value of the game and are being driven purely by health and safety concerns.

To that end, the league will use the 2024 season to continue collecting data to attempt to verify what injuries are occurring in which kinds of situations or plays.

Note: The onside punt play, used three times by the Montreal Alouettes last season (twice successfully), will remain legal for the 2024 season. The play, in which a player dribbles a punt across the line of scrimmage and falls on the ball for a first down, was debated this off-season, without the necessary support to remove it.