NFL owners vote to modify kickoff rules in hopes of reviving play’s relevance

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ORLANDO, Fla. — After taking a night to sleep on the discussions had on Monday over the proposed modified kickoff, the NFL owners on Tuesday voted to approve the change that league officials and coaches believe will return the play to relevance.

Twenty-nine of the 32 owners voted in favor of the modification, and the change will take effect this coming season — a year after only 22 percent of kickoffs in the 2023 season were returned.

The modification calls for all players on the kicking team to line up at the receiving team’s 40-yard line while the receiving team lines nine players up on its own 35. Two men will line up downfield as returners. The kicker will still kick off from his own 35. The kickoff team defenders wouldn’t be permitted to move until the ball lands on the ground in the “landing zone” — inside the receiving team’s 20-yard line. If the ball lands short of the landing zone, the ball would be moved to the receiving team’s 40-yard line just as if a kickoff sails out of bounds. Touchbacks would call for the ball to be moved to the receiving team’s 30.

Members of the NFL’s Competition Committee have spent the last two years studying the format utilized by the XFL. The new NFL alignment is a hybrid of that format. Special teams coordinators John Fassel (Dallas), Richard Hightower (Chicago) and Darren Rizzi (New Orleans) worked extensively to add changes to that format that would best suit the NFL, and then all 32 special teams coordinators met during combine week to further polish the proposal presented to the Competition Committee and then the NFL owners and coaches this week in Orlando.

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(Photo: Angela Weiss / AFP via Getty Images)

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