Changing The Rules?

Later this month, the NFL owners will convene, and they will have at least 4 rule change proposals on their agenda.  For a new rule to be adopted, 24 of the 32 owners would need to approve.  Three of the four rules are toward the radical end of the spectrum; the fourth is actually retrograde.  Today, I will take a dive into these four rules proposals; let me start with the “retrograde” proposal.

  • This change would “simplify” overtime games by returning to the “sudden death” mode.  Teams flip a coin to begin overtime and the first team to score in any fashion wins the game.  If neither team scores in a 10-minute overtime period, the game goes in the books as a tie.

That rule gives a significant advantage to the team that wins a coin flip and I do not like that aspect at all.  It also puts a premium on a team’s defensive performance because the team that kicks off in OT has to defend against the opponent advancing to the defense’s 30-yardline because that is “field goal territory”.  Placing a premium on defensive play is a plus for me.  On balance, I prefer the current rule that requires each team to posses the ball unless the original possession results in a TD or a safety.

The second rule proposal has been on the table before and failed to get the necessary 24 votes to implement it:

  • In the fourth quarter, onside kicks would be replaced by a team attempting a “fourth-and-15 play” from its own 35-yardline. If the play succeeds, the team maintains possession and continues its drive from wherever the play ends; if unsuccessful, the defense gets the ball wherever that play ends.

I have no love for onside kicks, but I also do not like adding such a contrivance as a conjured up “fourth-and-15 play” out of thin air.  Frankly, I really do not care how the owners deal with this proposal.

The third and fourth rule change proposals are closely related, and they are radical changes to the way overtime games would happen.  These changes have been labeled “spot and choose”.

  • At the beginning of overtime, there is a coin flip.  The team winning the toss would declare where the ball will be put in play; the team losing the choice would choose to play offense or defense from that point on the field.
  • Variation #1:  The game is sudden death from that point; any score wins the game, but the OT period is limited to 10 minutes.  If neither team scores, the game is a tie.
  • Variation #2:  The OT period runs 7 minutes and 30 seconds no matter who scores first.  The winner is the team that is leading when the overtime clock reaches zero; there can be multiple scores in the overtime period.  If the score is tied when the clock reaches zero, the game is a tie.

I like the idea of “spot and choose” for two reasons.  It does not give a significant advantage to the team winning a coin flip and it adds another element of strategy to the game.  For example, suppose Team #1 wins the toss and it has a dominant defense.  It could choose to put the ball at the 5-yardline giving Team #2 the choice of an awfully long field or the choice of giving Team #1 the ball at the 5-yardline which is chip shot field goal range in the sudden death variant.

Because I prefer for tie games to be decided by playing the same game that produced the tie in the first place, I would prefer Variation #2 above.  Sudden death is a concocted circumstance, and I would prefer to have a game wind up as a tie than to stray too far from the normal football game that got us to the point of overtime.  [Aside:  This is why I do not like penalty kicks in soccer; shootouts in hockey; runners on second base in extra innings in baseball …]

I do not see the owners going back to sudden death such that one team faces the possibility of never possessing for ball; I believe the current argot here would be “a bad optic”.  The owners did not like the idea of replacing the onside kick once before and I cannot recall a circumstance where an onside kick generated a huge controversy in the last year or so.  Therefore, I cannot see why any of the opposing owners would have changed their mind on the issue.  I would be surprised if either of those rules makes it into the books for 2022.

“Spot and choose” is such a radical idea that the owners are either going to love it and adopt it or they will hate it such that no one will ever propose it again.  That is the rule proposal to keep an eye on as the owners’ meeting gets closer.  That is an issue where an “NFL Insider” might be able to shed some light on the thought processes of supporters and/or opponents here.

Finally, as the NFL owners ponder the implications of these rule proposals, let me suggest they keep in mind these words from George Bernard Shaw:

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



6 thoughts on “Changing The Rules?”

  1. There is one way to avoid all of these proposals, decent or bad or really awful (none of them are good) to deal with overtime. How about a really retro approach… TIES AT THE END OF 60 MINUTES ARE TIES! So radical! Shootouts in soccer are reserved for tournaments/ playoffs. Ties during the regular season are final. There is no requirement that a game end with a winner. It seems much less contrived than what we have now

    1. Gary Cutler:

      I agree that tie games are perfectly all right – – but someone convinced NFL rules mavens in the past that they should be avoided. I would have no problem going back to the old way of doing things…

  2. If overtime is inevitable, I prefer the college version. From a fan standpoint it’s almost perfect. No kickoffs or punts, so it’s safer for players.

    1. Doug:

      My problem with the college rule is that it is too easy to score starting at the 25 yardline. Push the starting point back 25 or 30 yards and i would like it much better.

  3. Variation #2 seems to be the one which stands the best chance, if the NFL owners all drink manhattans from a pitcher before the vote.

    1. TenaciousP:

      I doubt any of the “spot and choose” variants will be adopted later this month but I do prefer Variation #2 to Variation #1.

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