It is easy to understand the new rules that the NFL has initiated in an effort to promote player safety, but some other rules continue to make very little sense. While the rules committee continues to work on minimizing the amount of brutal hits to the head, and the resulting concussions, there are many rules that seem to be curious at best. A primary example is what happened in the NFL playoffs this past season.
Two teams with better records in the NFC had to travel to inhospitable climates in the first round of the playoffs, despite their better performance during the season. The San Francisco 49ers easily had a better season than the host Green Bay Packers, and the New Orleans Saints should not have had to travel to Philadelphia. Both road teams ended up wining, providing further evidence that they were the better teams.
Even in the AFC, controversy swirled as the 11-4 Kansas City Chiefs rested all their players in a loss to the San Diego Chargers that prevented the Pittsburgh Steelers from getting into the playoffs. If a Kansas City win meant they could finish 12-4 and host the 11-5 Indianapolis Colts, everything changes. Since it made no difference for Kansas City, win or lose, they did what any rational team heading into the playoffs would do if they had nothing to gain. They pulled their starters, enabling San Diego to have a better opportunity to secure the win.
There are other curious rules, but these ten stand out with their contradictions and intentions that no longer seem to be necessary or fair. As NFL commissioner, I would take a second look at all of these:
10. Seven Men on the Line of Scrimmage Rule
The game has undergone so much change, especially on the offensive end, that many teams routinely break this rule. The offense has to have seven men lined up on the actual line of scrimmage before the snap of every ball. Receivers routinely take a jab step back on just about every other play and when this penalty is actually called, it always seems to be on a big play. This inconsistency in enforcement is the biggest reason to do away with this rule in the first place.
A minor change to this rule might make it easier to enforce. All five offensive linemen must line up on the line of scrimmage along with just one receiver. Going down from seven to six would seem like a subtle change, but it will open things up offensively, while making the rule much easier to enforce. Men in motion will not worry so much if they set down off the line of scrimmage. There would be a little less jamming of the receivers right off the line. This could lead to bigger plays and more creativity in offensive sets.
9. The Extra Point
There has been plenty of debate about doing away with the extra point. Since soccer-style kicking came to prominence in the league, extra points have been pretty much automatic. The problem is bigger than most fans might think. While we might watch Dwight Howard shoot free throws with great anticipation before a TV timeout, we will head into the kitchen during an automatic extra point. Advertisers who pay for much of the product on the field, would love to have us stay seating for the outcome of the extra point.
Moving the ball back, even for two-point attempts, would make the most sense. The kickers have to earn that one point or else it is not worth the extra time. I think the 20 yard line would suffice, while two-point conversions would be a little more difficult when starting from the 5. No gimmicks or reasons to take the kicker even further out of the game, just a couple of adjustments to keep the percentages more in line with the past.
8. Spiking the Ball to Stop the Clock
I am not a big fan of being able to stop the clock with an intentionally grounded pass. I know it makes the end of a half or game more exciting for the team that is behind, but it makes no sense. Why is a pass thrown to evade the pressure of a quarterback sack intentional grounding, while more or less fumbling the ball to the ground is okay? It might not be popular with some readers, but there are better ways to reward a team with no timeouts that manages to move the ball.
The clock can be stopped in the last two minutes of a half for moving the chains, like they do for college football. It seems like a team that makes a big play down the middle of the field can then be rewarded, while a team that experiences a quarterback sack can scramble to gain focus when there are no timeouts left to call. Eliminating the spiking of the ball will reward offenses who can get to the line of scrimmage quickly and have quarterbacks who know the next play they want to call.
7. The NFL Television Blackout Policy
The league rule states that a home game must be blacked out if the team hasn’t sold out the game at least 72 hours prior to kickoff. The rule goes back a long time, but it no longer seems like it helps the league. When home teams struggle, it is not advantageous to cut off the hardcore fans who can’t make it to the game. Bars and fans who need each other to make it through a game, are the ones who suffer the most. Extra revenue is lost and the marketing of the product only takes a longer step back.
It is funny how winning teams never have to worry about the blackout policy. In places like New England and Green Bay, it can be below zero degrees outside and still the seats will all be full. The rain in Seattle seldom scares any of their hardcore fans away. The NFL is made for television and the stadium is just a big stage. Televised games are the marketing tools that many poorly performing teams sorely need.
6. Defensive Holding Versus Pass Interference Rules
How many times each year do you see a flag come out when a ball sails over the head of a receiver, accompanied by a defensive holding call? Of course the receiver was held on his cut or chucked ten or fifteen yards down the field, but when does that become interfering with the reception? A pass interference call rewards the offense with a better placement of the ball, while defensive holding is only a five yard penalty and automatic first down.
If the ball is thrown to a receiver who is being held, that should be pass interference. It is no different than interfering in his ability to catch the ball. Defenders who get beat deep, will get punished for grabbing a receiver on the go. The rule should reward the offense with a five yard penalty and automatic first down from the point of the hold or interference with the catching of the ball.
5. Quarterback in the Grasp of the Defender
The “dumbest rule in sports” was first instituted in 1983 as a measure to protect quarterbacks. Protecting the quarterback has been a priority since this time as rib injuries and concussions were happening at an alarming rate. The problem now is that players have become stronger and faster on both sides of the ball. The whistle can do little to protect a quarterback that is about to be slammed to the ground.
When Ben Roethlisberger is in the grasp of an ankle tackle by a 180 pound blitzing cornerback, is it really “in the grasp”? These players are often hit as the whistle blows, but can sometimes manage to get themselves free. Maybe like a hook slide, the quarterbacks should simply know when to give up on a play and take a knee. The forward progress is stopped rule should be enough to protect the quarterback from that extra hit.
4. When Fumbles and Recoveries Can’t Be Challenged
Every year we have plays that involve fumbles and recoveries, but not the part in between. If you can review a fumble and review a recovery, why can’t you review what happens in between? Last season a fumble happened in the playoffs of the San Francisco-Seattle game where NaVarro Bowman had possession of the football with his back on the ground. A pileup ensued and Marshawn Lynch came out with the ball. The fumble indeed happened, and it appeared that Lynch was the last to hold the ball, but the two seconds Bowman had control of the ball was not part of the review.
Bowman blew out his knee on the play, and the replays that confirmed his possession were unable to change the outcome of the call. These plays have happened before, and it seems ridiculous that we can’t review the whole play. If we define a turnover as a complete change in possession, why can’t we replay the “in-between”?
3. A QB Can Throw Away the Football When Outside the Tackle Box
Why is a ball that is thrown away on purpose not intentional grounding? Why was the rule changed to reward quarterbacks who run for their lives outside the pocket to throw the ball away? The rule I am proposing to change is the silly “outside the tackle box” rule that allows quarterbacks to throw the football away when they are outside the debatable boundaries of the pocket. As it stands now, defenses have to continue to cover receivers, while the quarterback can run or get rid of the ball.
The great pass rush that causes the quarterback to scramble out of the pocket only gives the quarterback more options for a positive outcome on the play. He has already bought extra time to spot an open receiver, can decide to run the ball, or throw the ball into the stands to live another day. The quarterback is given a triple option, all at the expense of good sound disciplined defense. Is that fair?
2. Receiver Must Control the Ball When Hitting the Ground to be Given a Reception
This rule doesn’t seem to reward receivers who catch the ball with their hands. When a receiver comes down with a ball firmly in his two hands, why is it an incomplete pass if it is jarred loose when he comes in contact with the cold hard turf? For running backs, “the ground cannot cause a fumble.” For receivers on the sideline, possession must be established with two feet in bounds, and the ball can’t be juggled even when the fully extended receiver hits the ground. This is not the circus!
Several big plays have been made in the end zone that have brought attention to this rule. It just seems to go against the “ground cannot cause a fumble” rule. A running back can have a knee on the ground and the ball jarred loose, only to have the play end up dead. If the receiver has possession of the ball with two feet on the ground, it shouldn’t be any different. This doesn’t seem to be that fair.
1. NFC and AFC Conference Playoff Seeding
Enough with winning your division, it does not need to carry any clout. The playoffs should be seeded by records, to keep teams playing up to their final game. Would the Chiefs have rested all their players when they played the Chargers at the end of last year? What about the (10-6) Cardinals who had to play both Seattle and San Francisco twice? Arizona was punished for having to play in a tough division, while Green Bay (8-7-1) got a home playoff game against the 49ers (12-4), who were arguably the second best team in the league.
A division that has a weak winner, gets to play its even weaker foes six times. In the divisions where winning is more prevalent, the teams end up playing six games with at least two against a better foe. The 49ers had to play the Cardinals and Seahawks both twice. The Saints had to play Carolina twice. Having the Saints (11-5) travel to Philadelphia (10-6) because they had two better teams in their division, seem pretty weak. Seed them all at the end, and reward the teams that play the best ball.