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Today's Tidbit... Eliminating The Second Half Kickoff
Among the rules gridiron football borrowed from rugby was to flip a coin to determine which team could kick off or select a goal to defend. In the early days, teams switched goals after every score and following halftime. Changing goals after every score went away, but goal switching continued after halftime until fifteen-minute quarters replaced thirty-minute halves in 1910.
Although the details around these choices have changed, the second half has always started with a kickoff by one team or the other. Like many tried-and-true aspects of football, however, there have been a few suggestions to start the second half differently. In this case, the primary suggestion has been to start the second half in possession of the team and at the spot where the first half ended.
This suggestion came in the years when evenly-matched teams struggled to move the ball. For example, in 1898, an unnamed football aficionado argued:
...let us suppose that team A and B are playing. By dint of the hardest kind of work Team A finally gets the ball within five yard of team B's goal when time for the first half is called. Again, in the second half, team A, working just as faithfully, again places the ball within five yards (or even less) of B's goal line when time for the second half is called. According to the present system it is a tie game, and as far as the future reputation of the teams go A is no better than B. As a matter of a fact, is not A superior, and hasn't the playing demonstrated the fact?
This argument continued and received consideration by the rules committee in 1928, followed by periodic mention in the 1930s before all but disappearing. The rule makers never made this change, but consider how the game's strategies might have changed.
First, teams winning the coin flip might have chosen to kick rather than receive the ball, but that choice would not have been affected by considerations about the second half. Second, offensive play calling at the end of first-half strategies would change, knowing they would get the ball back deep in enemy territory. Alternatively, turning the ball over on downs would leave the opponent in the opposite situation. Decisions related to wind direction might still apply as they do at the end of the first and third quarters today.
Third, clock management at the end of the first half would be less relevant, and the drama would be reduced.
Similar concerns about superior teams moving the ball freely but failing to penetrate the goal line led some to suggest changing football's scoring to award a point for every first down. No less than Pop Warner advocated that argument in 1928.
Finally, the 1933 rules committee considered giving teams five downs per series inside the red zone. But, once again, that suggestion did not move forward.
Of course, every rule in football and other sports and games is arbitrary. Rules reflect the traditions of the past, the inertia of the present, and the visions for the future, with each subject to change during the next rules committee meeting.
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