Two NFL Rule Changes

Last week, I mentioned a NY Times piece which asserted that golf was losing players and audience and I likened it to a similar trend in baseball.  That mention got me a response from Bob Molinaro whose commentary in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot I often cite here.  Here is the body of his email to me:

“Way back in 2013 or ‘14, I wrote a piece about the drop off in golfing down here [Tidewater area of Virginia].  Consensus was that men with young families filled more of their free time with their kids’ baseball, soccer practice.  And other activities.  Not as much time to spend 4 hours on the course.

“These were the opinions of local golf pros and club managers and a few players.  For what it’s worth.”

I attributed the “loss of golfers” to insufficient action in the game to attract younger players to watch it and then to play it.  [Aside: That rant drew a comment from a reader in Florida who does not see any diminution of interest in golf in his part of the world.]  The email cited above would seem to indicate that the trend noted by the NY Times has been in existence for a while.

Moving along …  The NFL has announced two rule changes – one for the on-field product and the other for franchise behavior.  Both changes are well-intentioned, but I am not sure either one is optimal.  Let me deal with the on-field rule first even though it will only apply in the playoffs for now.  The new rule guarantees that each team will have possession of the ball in an overtime situation.  That has been something that fans and commentators have wanted to see for a long time but I think the new rule might give an advantage to the team that kicks off in the overtime.  Let me explain.

  • Team A kicks off in OT knowing that it will get the ball back even if it surrenders a TD to Team B on offense or on special teams.  It can play defense the way it has played defense all season long to get to this playoff game.  If Team B scores a TD, Team A will have the opportunity to respond.
  • Assume for a moment that Team B scores a TD and converts the point after to lead by 7 points as it kicks off back to Team A.  At that point, Team A knows that it must score a TD to stay in the game; it cannot punt the ball and it cannot try a field goal.  That means that Team A must defend differently than it has had to defend opponents for the season that leads up to that moment.  There will be no punting even on 4th and 35 to go…
  • Team A had to play “normal football” in its first overtime possession; Team B has the advantage of knowing what must be the outcome of its possession in the event that Team A successfully scores a TD on its first possession.
  • If the game remains tied after each team has had its possession, then sudden-death scoring will apply…

Under the old rule – imperfect as it was – the team winning the coin toss for the OT would naturally opt to receive and it would put the defenders at a disadvantage.  [Aside:  The assumption that a team winning the coin toss would naturally choose to receive only applies if the team captain is not Abner Haynes who famously chose to “kick to the clock”.]  Under the new rule, I think the advantage goes to the team that loses the coin toss.

The second rule change is more than well-intentioned; the other rule change seeks to appease critics who fault the NFL for its lack of diversity in coaching and team management positions.  The new staffing rule will require that every team must have a minority assistant coach in a significant role on its offensive staff.  This “designated minority assistant” must have at least three years of college or professional coaching experience and must “work closely with the head coach and offensive coordinator”.

Obviously, one might ask why defensive coaches are now being relegated to second-class citizenship by the NFL.  It is more than slightly ironic that a measure intended to be more inclusive creates a class of people who will be disadvantaged as the new measure is put into effect.  But I have another – more fundamental – problem with this new rule.

  • These new “designated minority assistant coaching positions” – the ones that must work closely with the head coach and the offensive coordinator – are ones that must be filled based on a candidate’s skin color and/or ethnic background and/or chromosomal identity.
  • One can wave one’s arms and use poetic phraseology to explain why this is different and why this is necessary, but that will not change the fact that this is a form of hiring discrimination with a different vector heading.

The NFL attracts criticism to itself because the race/ethnicity/gender mix among its coaches and its GMs does not match the national demographic and is way out of step with the demographic of players in the NFL.  Conventional wisdom here is that the NFL got into this situation because of an “old boy’s network” that perpetuated itself by hiring people who looked and behaved the way they looked and behaved.  Without explicitly calling the 32 principal owners of NFL teams racists, most folks attribute the NFL’s lack of minority coaches and GMs to hiring decisions that have bases in things other than competence and experience.

Now if that sort of reasoning is even half-right, then what the NFL is proposing to do here is the moral equivalent of saying that two wrongs make a right.

Before I receive a bushel of nasty emails accusing me of all sorts of ill will, let me be very clear about my dissent here:

  • I acknowledge the obvious situation that there is demographic disharmony in the ranks of NFL management.
  • I am confident that if someone where to invent a “competency meter” that device would show that many fully competent minority and female candidates have been passed over in previous NFL hiring decision processes.
  • I am confident that if someone were to invent a “mind-reading machine” that device would reveal that hiring decisions for head coaches and GMs in the NFL have some component of race involved in them.
  • I am opposed to the creation or the perpetuation of distinctions that hinder any segment of the population when they seek jobs or advancement in their chosen field of endeavor.
  • No one should get an opportunity – or be denied an opportunity – based on their genetic makeup or their heritage.  The operative words there are “No one” and this new NFL rule will create situations where that must happen no matter the intent of the decision maker.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in his column in the Seattle Times soon after Mike McDaniel was named the new head coach of the Miami Dolphins:

“New Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel, to reporters, on criticism he’s never been a head coach:  ‘The thing that trips me up is every single head coach in the history of football has never been a head coach until he’s been a head coach. Everyone has to have their first time.’”

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



2 thoughts on “Two NFL Rule Changes”

  1. The Abner Haynes reference is going to be about as understood by the average football fan as our comprehension of Federal Reserve policy. Better to point readers to “Going Long” by Jeff Miller.

    1. TenaciousP:

      A simple Google search on “Abner Haynes kick to the clock” works well too…

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