The scene plays out numerous times on Saturdays throughout the college football season.
A team gets down by two or three touchdowns. Late in the game, just when television analysts, even the most diehard fans, and perhaps even a few of the players themselves have given up hope, the tide turns.
Typically, the game-altering play is a kick return or a punt return for a touchdown. That's because, when one team has dominated another throughout a football game, usually it takes something unique -- a quick strike -- to change the momentum.
It takes a very talented offensive coordinator to be able to adjust plans so excellently during a game that an offense that had been dominated can change things up and start scoring at will later in the game.
There's nothing quite like a great kick return or punt return to get a team back in a game. The defense is hyped up for the next series, and the offense gains a new sense of hope, being one touchdown closer.
So, when your favorite high school football team gets down by double digits and needs a boost, you can look to a big-time return to regain momentum, right?
In some cases, they won't have the chance.
There's a curious rule put forth by the National Federation of State High School Associations that goes a little like this: If a kickoff reaches the end zone, the ball is dead, even if it's caught by a player, and cannot be returned, and the receiving team starts at the 20-yard line after a touchback.
I attempted to contact NFHS on multiple occasions, but received no response. I was trying to get at the heart of why this rule, which has been in the books for a while now, was instituted in the first place.
My first inclination is that the federation was trying to keep players safe by ensuring that a returner running full speed from all the way in the end zone would not collide with a tackler running full speed. But what's the difference between that scenario and one in which the returner catches the ball at the 1-yard line and starts sprinting?
Because of this rule, a strong-legged kicker is a huge asset at the high school level, particularly because most kickers at this level are unable to get the ball to the end zone. Say a team was down 20 points with one quarter remaining, but had an excellent returner chomping at the bit to get his team back in the game. His skills are negated against a strong-legged kicker.
Game planning in college football is often altered by a great returner.
When kicking off to a notoriously talented returner, teams will employ a variety of strategies -- pooch kicks, squib kicks that bounce along the ground, and short kickoffs to a different player -- to avoid them. It makes the game interesting because of the different coaching strategies.
This high school rule takes the fun out of the kicking game. Usually, when a team wants to ensure that the returner doesn't get the ball, the kicker has to kick it out of bounds and the opposing team gets great field position at the 40-yard line.
Sure, the rule likely won't change the outcome of many high school games, especially considering most kickers can't make it to the end zone, anyway. But any rule should be backed by common sense.
If safety is the concern, then be consistent and outlaw kickoff returns altogether. If there's another purpose, I just don't see it.
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