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CHANGE FOR THE GOOD
Modification of the National Football League's new punt rule was almost an inevitability after the coaches tried it out in pre-training camp scrimmages. To encourage more punt returns, NFL owners had approved a change that prohibited any player on the kicking team from running downfield until the ball was kicked, but the coaches discovered that under this restriction no one got within 12 or 13 yards of the returner at the moment he fielded the punt. Punt returners, they claimed, would convert all kicks into touchdowns, or at least long runs, and that would stereotype the game as much as no return at all.
A dubious argument, at best—long punt returns are fun. A more frightening prospect persuaded the owners to allow the wide men on either end of the line to go downfield at the center snap. This more serious threat was that the coaches would instruct their punters to kick out of bounds.
There was another good reason to change the new rule, suggests Dr. Robert Kerlan, the famed orthopedist. More injuries would result.
"The receiving team can rush just enough people to make sure there is a punt," he says. "It can arrange the rest of the players in a picket line so that they will get tremendous blocking angles on the men coming downfield to make the tackle. The fact that they are going to get more time to produce blocks undoubtedly means more injuries in a situation that already has a high injury rate. However, the other new rules, such as the elimination of the crack-back block, should more than offset this increase in injuries."
The change on a change makes sense.
MONSTER OF THE FAIRWAY
If sometime during the U.S. Open at Winged Foot you get the feeling, either live or on TV, that you are witnessing a highly sophisticated operation, like a space shot countdown, you will not be far from wrong. Stationed at all the holes will be men intently studying delicate looking devices covered with numbers swiveling around on base plates attached to tripods. The instruments are range-finders, and when you hear that Johnny Miller made a 16�-foot putt on the 17th green, for once you are going to know that he did just that—made a 16�-foot putt, no more, no less.
This is all part of a fairly massive effort by IBM to bring golf into the 21st century, ahead of time. There will be six rangefinders at various locations on the Mamaroneck, N.Y. course, two more in the clubhouse and three in the press tent, computer operators will be winging questions into computer control center and getting replies instanter on an overhead screen.