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NFL Draft

3 NFL Rule Changes That Benefit Fans And The Game

  • The Draft Network
  • June 4, 2020
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The NFL is always changing.

When we hear that, we often think about the players. We think about how the tight end position is evolving into more of a big receiver than just an in-line player for so many teams. We think about how the safety position is becoming more versatile than ever; playing in the slot, acting as a more athletic linebacker, etc. We also think about the creative ways coaches are deploying not just new twists on these positions, but many others.

But sometimes when we say the game is changing we literally mean the game itself.

The league is constantly trying to self reflect to tweak or even totally modify the structure and rules of the game of football at the pro level. Over the years we’ve seen rules like the goal post being moved back, offensive holding yards be reduced, the contact rule for defensive backs, and of course legalizing the forward pass.

A potential NFL rule change made headlines recently, which would’ve allowed teams to attempt a fourth-and-15 offensive play from its own 25-yard line to try to keep possession of the football after scoring a touchdown or field goal. If the offense converts, it keeps the ball; if it falls short, the defending team takes over at the dead-ball spot. This would replace the onside kick.

For a pure entertainment standpoint, it sounds pretty cool⁠—if you have a good quarterback, that is. But it was also a rule that would seem to really shift the balance of the structure of fair possessions in the game and it was ultimately voted against by the owners.

Maybe that rule wasn’t the best, but there are a few others that could be advantageous for both the game itself and fans’ entertainment.

Make All Plays Reviewable; Let Coaches Challenge Them

Why in the world does the NFL limit what can and cannot be challenged? The human element of referees is a crucial part of the game, and I do not want that to go away entirely. I’m not advocating for robots on the field to make the calls, but I constantly wonder why the game is not more open to keeping this human element in check. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick wonders it, too. 

"I’m not proposing more challenges," Belichick said. "All I’m saying is, as a coach, if you want to challenge a play, I think you should be able to challenge it. And why does it have to be limited to, I don’t know, there’s four or five pages in the rules book of plays that can be challenged.

"If I throw a challenge on an offensive holding play and they look at it, and they don’t think it’s holding, I lose the challenge. But if it’s an egregious play, I don’t see why it should not be allowed to be challenged when it affects the outcome of the game. I think we can find multiple, multiple examples of plays for example where the offense isn’t set, that if the officials could look at it, it’s very clear that they’re not set, that would nullify what subsequently happened.”

As Belichick said, there are four or five pages in the rule book trying to lay out what you can and cannot challenge. Why do we have to make it that complicated? Every play is important, and every play presents an opportunity for an official to get it wrong or miss something. It seems odd to think that some plays are less important to get correct. 

"If we fundamentally want to try to get the games right and the plays right, then I don’t see why they should be excluded,” Belichick said. “Even though they’re judgment calls, if you’re willing to use a timeout on that, I think you should be able to do that. It’s not going to slow the game down. It’s no different than if you challenged another play.”

Belichick said he wasn’t arguing for coaches to have more challenges and neither am I. Coaches have three timeouts to use and if they want to risk them all on challenges, that’s their choice. If they’re right, then the game is better for it; if they’re wrong, they lose their timeout. Simple as that.

New XFL-Style Kickoff Rule

These next two rules and practices are ones we saw from the XFL season this past spring. They were two changes that seemed to be home runs when it came to player safety, the excitement of the game itself, and excitement for fans. The first involves kickoffs.

The NFL has been trying to perfect the kickoff rule for years. It’s been a back-and-forth balancing act between trying to keep the excitement of the play involved (think of the Devin Hester years) and making one of the most dangerous sequences in the game safer for the players.

One way they’ve done that is by moving the spot where the ball is kicked off. For about 50 years, from the 1920s to 1974, the ball was kicked from the 40-yard line. Then, in the mid-70s, it was moved to the 35-yard line. Twenty years later, in 1994, it was moved to the 30-yard line. In 2011, it was moved back to the 35-yard line where it remains today.

The reason for the recent change, as well as other kickoff implementations such as contact windows of 15 yards from the kick and banning two-man wedge blocks, was to eliminate those high-speed hard hits that can result in major injury.

What the XFL did to minimize the injury risk was changing the kickoff formations in a way that advanced safety without taking away much of the excitement. The XFL had each team line up five yards apart on the receiving team’s side of the field at the 30- and 35-yard lines. Players were not be allowed to move until either the returner caught the ball or three seconds elapsed after the kick. This stopped players from getting a full head of steam before contact but still allowed for blocking strategy and exciting returns.

I loved it and would love to see the NFL do something similar to this before simply modifying the rules based on what they currently have. 

Ditch Old Fashioned Extra Point Rule

Oh, yeah, you knew this was coming. If you watched any XFL game this past spring, you likely saw this rule change in action.

In the NFL, after scoring a touchdown the scoring team has two options: kick a point after attempt from the 15-yard line for one point or place the ball on the 2-yard line to run an offensive play worth two points if they once again cross the goal line.

After scoring a touchdown in the XFL, the scoring team had the choice of running an offensive play from the 2-, 5-, or 10-yard lines for 1, 2, or 3 points respectively. No point after attempt kicks were allowed. On top of that, if the defense was able to cause a turnover and return the ball to the opponent’s end zone, the resulting score would have been equal to the number of points the offense was attempting to score.

I loved it. I thought it brought a fun element and strategy to the game beyond just the expected one point after touchdowns we have now. It also meant that teams were rarely eliminated from tying or taking the lead at any point in the game. 

The game of football isn’t perfect; in ways, it never will be. But there are always ways to make the game more fun, fair, and safe. These three rules would advance all three of those causes and benefit everyone involved.

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