Yahoo Sports AM: The return of kickoff returns?

In today's edition: Make kickoffs great again, the team without a school, Denver's revolving door, jet suit racing, and more.

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🚨 Headlines

🏀 Jayhawks fall out: Kansas fell seven spots to No. 14 in this week's AP men's basketball poll, ending their streak of 55 straight weeks in the top 10. No. 1 Houston now has the longest active top-10 streak at 36 straight weeks.

🏈 Buc for life: Five-time Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans signed a two-year, $52 million extension with the Buccaneers, who hope to make the future Hall of Famer "a Buc for life."

🏒 Devils fire Ruff: The Devils fired head coach Lindy Ruff on Monday amid a disappointing season. Ruff, who spent nearly four seasons in New Jersey, ranks fourth all-time in NHL wins with 864.

🏀 WNBA expansion: Canadian billionaire Larry Tanenbaum is pursuing a WNBA expansion team for Toronto, per CBC Sports. Tanenbaum is the chairman of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Maple Leafs, Raptors and Toronto FC.

⛳️ $240,000 mistake: LIV's Adrian Meronk was penalized one stroke for slow play on Sunday, which dropped him from a tie for fifth into a six-way tie for sixth, costing him $240,000.

🏈 The return of returns?

(Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports)
(Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports)

A record-low 21.8% of NFL kickoffs were returned last season, but a new proposal could reinvigorate football's dying art, Jeff writes.

What's happening: Special teams coordinators met during last weekend's NFL combine and came up with the following two-pronged proposal that emphasizes player safety, while incentivizing fewer touchbacks and more returns.

  1. Limiting high-speed collisions: Both teams would line up just five yards from each other, on the receiving team's 40- and 35-yard lines. Those players wouldn't be able to move until the ball is touched or reaches the "target zone," which is between the 20-yard line and end zone.

  2. Fewer touchbacks/more returns: If the ball is kicked into the end zone, the receiving team starts at their own 35-yard line, 10 yards further up than the current rule. But if the receiving team lets the ball roll into the end zone, they start five yards further back, at their own 20.

How we got here: Kick returns started vanishing in 2011, when the NFL moved kickoffs up to the 35-yard line to increase touchbacks and limit returns, which were causing a disproportionate percentage of injuries.

  • The return rate hovered around 80-90% in the 1990s and 2000s before dropping to 48% in 2013 and 37.5% in 2022.

  • The return rate then plummeted to just 21.8% last season thanks to an experimental, safety-driven rule wherein all fair catches behind the 25-yard line were spotted on the 25 rather than the spot of the fair catch.

Make kickoffs great again: There were 2,698 kickoffs last season, and almost none produced any action. The hope is that this new rule, which the owners could vote on later this month, will "make the kickoff game exciting again," writes NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.

🏀 A team without a school


The University of Antelope Valley men's basketball team won its conference tournament on Monday night, and the women's team plays in the conference title game tonight — despite their school no longer being in existence.

Wait, what? The Southern California-based university shut down last week amid financial woes*, forcing the basketball teams to raise money through GoFundMe to continue their seasons.

What's next: The men's team has qualified for the NAIA tournament later this month, and the women can do the same tonight. But will they be able to participate?

  • "We are still working with state agencies and accrediting agencies to try and keep these guys active," UAV's interim president, Tim Campagna, told Sportico.

  • Don Ott, commissioner of the California Pacific Conference where UAV has been a member since 2015, expressed confidence that the school-less players will be granted waivers.

*Financial woes is an understatement: UAV was acquired in 2022 by Genius Group, a Singapore-based education technology company, which has seen its stock price plummet nearly 100% over the last year. It's currently trading at $0.31 on the NYSE.

🏈 A failed marriage: Broncos dump Wilson

(Perry Knotts/Getty Images)
(Perry Knotts/Getty Images)

The Russell Wilson era is over after just two seasons in Denver, with the Broncos announcing on Monday that they will release the veteran QB when the 2024 league year begins March 13.

Swing and a miss: Denver traded a haul to Seattle to land the nine-time Pro Bowl QB, then gave him a five-year, $242 million extension with $161 million guaranteed. They'll now take an $85 million hit in dead money over the next two seasons, making Wilson's contract one of the worst in NFL history.

Denver's revolving door: The Broncos have had 13 different starting QBs since Peyton Manning's retirement in 2015 and haven't made the playoffs in that time — an eight-year postseason drought that trails only the Jets (13).

Looking ahead: Wilson, who will get $39 million from the Broncos not to be there next season, is expected to play for a veteran-minimum $1.21 million, making him an intriguing free agent. Where will the 35-year-old land? The Steelers, Raiders, Falcons, Vikings and Patriots are the best fits.

🚀 In photos: Jet suit racing

(Waleed Zein/Anadolu via Getty Images)
(Waleed Zein/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Move aside, Tony Stark: Eight pilots briefly channeled Iron Man last week in Dubai in what organizers are calling the first-ever jet suit race, Jeff writes.

(Jon Gambrell/AP Photo)
(Jon Gambrell/AP Photo)

The pilots sped along a 0.4-mile long course in the Dubai Marina, maneuvering through 12 inflatable obstacles in races that lasted about 90 seconds.

(Waleed Zein/Anadolu via Getty Images)
(Waleed Zein/Anadolu via Getty Images)

The jet suits — created by Gravity Industries — have 1,500 horsepower, can reach speeds up to 80 mph and run on the same fuel that powers Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s.

(Waleed Zein/Anadolu via Getty Images)
(Waleed Zein/Anadolu via Getty Images)

"The world of Marvel superheroes and DC Comics have created that dream book with CGI," Gravity Industries founder Richard Browning told AP. "And we've got the closest I think anybody's ever got to delivering that for real."

📆 Mar. 5, 2004: The brawl that changed the NHL

Senators goalie Patrick Lalime (L) and Flyers goalie Robert Esche were among those who threw down that night. (George Widman/AP Photo)
Senators goalie Patrick Lalime (L) and Flyers goalie Robert Esche were among those who threw down that night. (George Widman/AP Photo)

20 years ago today, the Flyers and Senators combined for an NHL-record 419 penalty minutes and 20 ejections thanks to a barrage of fights at the end of Philly's 5-3 win, Jeff writes.

A lasting impact: Fueled by an incident in their previous game, four separate waves of melees broke out in a 32-second span at the end of the third period. In the aftermath, the NHL implemented a new rule wherein players who instigated a fight with less than five minutes left would be suspended one game, with their coaches fined $10,000.

More on this day:

  • 🏏 1949: Legendary cricketer Sir Donald Bradman, the only Australian cricket player to be knighted, played in the final match of his otherworldly* career.

  • 🏈 1964: The NFL purchased Ed Sabol's Blair Motion Pictures, which was renamed NFL Films and quickly became the main repository for the history of football on film.

*Just how good was Bradman? His career batting average (runs scored over wickets lost) in test matches was 99.94, which is 61% higher than second place (62.15).

📺 Watchlist: Big Ten battle

(John Fisher/Getty Images)
(John Fisher/Getty Images)

Two of the best scorers in men's college basketball go head-to-head tonight when Zach Edey (24 ppg, second-best in the nation) and No. 3 Purdue visit Terrence Shannon Jr. (22 ppg, fourth-best in the nation) and No. 12 Illinois (7pm ET, Peacock).

More to watch:

  • 🏀 NBA: Celtics at Cavaliers (7:30pm, TNT); Suns at Nuggets (10pm, TNT) … Boston (+220) and Denver (+450) are the current title favorites at BetMGM.

  • 🏀 NCAAM: No. 16 Alabama at Florida (7pm, ESPN); Kansas State at No. 14 Kansas (9pm, ESPN)

  • ⚽️ Champions League: Real Sociedad (down 0-2) vs. PSG (3pm, CBS/Paramount+); Bayern (down 0-1) vs. Lazio (3pm, Paramount+) … For a spot in the quarterfinals.

  • 🏒 NHL: Oilers at Bruins (7:30pm, ESPN+) … Edmonton's Connor McDavid and Boston's David Pastrňák rank third and fourth, respectively, in points.*

*NHL points leaders: Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov and Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon are tied for first with 105 points, followed by McDavid (97), Pastrňák (90) and New York's Artemi Panarin (85).

⚾️ MLB trivia

(Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
(Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

The Phillies signed ace Zack Wheeler to a three-year, $126 million extension on Monday, the third-richest contract ever for a pitcher by average annual value ($42 million).

  • Question: Who are the only two pitchers with richer contracts by AAV?

  • Hint: Former teammates.

Answer at the bottom.

🏈 Kelce hangs 'em up

(Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
(Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

It felt like all of Philadelphia paused at 1pm on Monday to cry for an hour with Jason Kelce, as he announced his retirement.

ICYMI: The future Hall of Famer, who spent his entire 13-year career in Philly, gave an incredibly emotional speech at his press conference. Turns out, real men do cry.

Trivia answer: Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander (both $43.3 million)

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