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Football thoughts 101 – #1

Posted in Sports - football, mostly by EloiSVM42 on October 31, 2019

The refereeing of NFL games has been terrible this season (as it has been for a while), so bad it threatens the integrity of the game and the possible loss of fan support. I know it, you know it, every football fan knows it.

There are just too many penalties, and it takes too long to adjudicate them. If you have so many penalties, it is a strong indication that there are too many rules, or the rules are too complicated.  Stoppages for review are far too numerous and can run longer than a full-length movie. They destroy the flow of the game.

Fortunately for the NFL, I know why this is happening and how to fix it, both of which I will explain below.

The primary responsibility lies with the Competition Committee, for creating too many rules that require judgement and then putting their interpretation into the hands of referees whose judgement has been frayed by instant replay, because the refs know they don’t have to be right because they are being monitored, and they don’t care as much as they used to, because they resent being monitored. The monitors don’t like it much either, which is one reason why they rarely overturn calls. The other is that the refs usually get it right.

Here are some solutions:

First, eliminate instant replay. Refs get most calls right anyway. Add up the refs’ calls that are unchallenged, those challenges that are confirmed or let “stand,” and you will see that replays take up an enormous amount of time for a very tiny number of plays. Besides, if refs know there is no instant replay official watching over their shoulder, they will be even more diligent in their calls.

I know instant replay reviews are popular with some, and I’m going to be called a Luddite for suggesting they be dropped, but the technology needn’t be applied just because it exists. These replays slow the game and are unnecessary. Some sports, like baseball, may be a game of inches, but football is a game of yards. Obsessing too much over an inch is a waste of time.

That said, and to show I’m not completely dismissive of instant replay technology, there should be one official watching who has the authority to stop the game for an egregiously bad call. To qualify as egregious, a call would have to be like the one that screwed the Saints out of the Super Bowl last year. That one should have been overturned if the Commissioner had to call down to the field himself. The fact that it wasn’t shows just how bad the current protocol is.

Second, the NFL is obsessed with protecting players from concussion. (Actually, that’s BS. With the exception of some quarterbacks, the NFL doesn’t give a damn about players’ concussions; it cares about its image, or it would have addressed this issue long ago.) So, every time there is a hit to the head, the game is stopped, and time comes to a numbing halt while refs consider the factual, philosophical, political and religious implications of the penalty. And the worst of it is that despite all this, the rule is irregularly applied, creating the impression, and the fact of injustice.

I care about concussions, but also about keeping the game flowing. Therefore, the NFL should change the game to be played below the neck. No interpretation; above the neck or below. Any hit above the neck is a penalty, and the offending player is ejected. No reviews, no wasted time.

Third, eliminate kick-off and punt returns. By this I mean, any kick-off that is not into the end zone must be fair caught and the ball placed on the 25-yard line or where it is caught, whichever is closer to midfield. Punts must be fair caught if not kicked or allowed to roll into the end zone and placed where they are caught, or on the 25-yard line if they go into the end zone.

I know, I know. This will eliminate some exciting run backs, but let’s face it, there is a block in the back penalty on almost every kick. It’s more likely the ball will be moved back nearer your own goal line than returned for a touchdown, and these ubiquitous penalties hinder the game. Statistically, teams are a lot better off if they just take the fair catch, and the game will be speeded up. The NFL has been trying to discourage runbacks with middling rule changes. Let’s go all the way.

Frankly, I’m surprised coaches haven’t obviated this problem themselves. If I were a coach, I would tell every player on every punt to stand still and let the receiver fair catch the ball. And, I would tell receivers never to run a ball out of the end zone, and for every blocker not to do so. The odds favor it.

Next game you watch, use a stopwatch and estimate how much time would be saved if these rules were enacted. You will be amazed.

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