What the NFL Can Teach Washington About Social Policy

Can somebody please get this man a personal shopper?

Can somebody please get this man a personal shopper?

I’m a certified New England Patriots hater. Don’t even get me started. But you do have to tip your hat to them when they deserve it. Their 3 – 0 start without pretty boy quarterback Tom Brady is a remarkable feat of coaching by the worst-dressed coach in all of pro sports, Bill Belichick.

But something else Belichick is doing is a terrific example of the law of unintended consequences and perverse results, which plague nearly every liberal social policy of the last 50 years. The NFL decided on a rule change for this year that attempts to reduce injuries during kickoffs, by setting the touchback to the 25-yard line instead of the 20. The hope is that more teams would take a touchback instead of running the ball out from deep in the end zone, since most NFL kickers these days can reach the back of the end zone with the kickoffs.

Guess what? Belichick figured out that if you kick the ball short in the field of play, teams will have to run the kick back and most often won’t make it to the 25-yard line. Fox Sports reports:

Over the offseason, the NFL, in its eternal wisdom and frivolous desire to make the game safer, decided to bring out kickoff touchbacks to the 25-yard line, figuring that kickoff returners would be more inclined to down the ball in the end zone now that they were getting five free yards for doing so. . .

. . . given the speed of the kick, return team and cover team, the initial collisions on a kickoff happen at about the 15-yard line, meaning a returner has to go about 10 more yards to get to the 25. It might not sound like it, but getting from the 20 to the 25 is harder than it seems. So why not pooch a kickoff to land inside the five, take the touchback off the table and force returners to run every single time, assuming (rightly) that they’ll be tackled before the 25. That’s exactly what Belichick has done and it’s worked every single time.

The Patriots have kicked off 18 times this season, and haven’t had a team start a drive from beyond the 25-yard line once. Stephen Gostkowski has 10 touchbacks. The other eight led to returns inside the 25 and, on Thursday night, two fumbles. Check and mate.

It’s not just the Patriots that have figured this out. Twenty-four of the 32 NFL teams have kicked a smaller percentage of touchbacks through two weeks of the NFL season than in 2015. (It’s a small sample size, yes.) The Ravens, for instance, had 85% of kickoffs downed for touchbacks last year. The rate is at 66% in 2016.

The obvious problem is that a rule intended to minimize kickoff returns is actually increasing them. And given that we’re only two games into the season for most teams, expect this trend to spread league-wide soon. . .

That the NFL’s rules committee couldn’t see this coming is baffling. If you thought about this for more than a few hours and talked out every possible scenario, there was no doubt this would be the rational play. . . kickoffs are the most dangerous plays and the NFL, in a desperate attempt to make the league safer, has unknowingly made it more dangerous.

“Unknowingly making something worse” is the unofficial motto of liberalism since the 1960s. Heck, the NFL’s rule committee could easily find jobs at the Department of Health and Human Services.