GRIDLINE Feature Article
content below posted 05:00SAT07JUN03 cst

10 NFL Rule Changes We'd Like to See

Everybody says it, "Man, I wish they'd change that rule." We say it, too, but here at GRIDLINE we don't stop at vague suggestions. Anyone who visits the site during the season knows that we spell it out, logically and fearlessly, and that's exactly the approach we're taking with our presentation of "10 NFL Rule Changes We'd Like to See."

We've been known to criticize the officiating on occasion. We do it when we see a blown call whether it helps us or hurts us, because when outcomes are determined by poor officiating it tends to bring EVERYONE's hit percentage down toward the 50 percent level. You can't cap poor officiating. And we really can't blame the officials in most cases. They are human. They make mistakes. In fact, we'll concede that NFL officials have one of the most difficult jobs on the planet. It's hard to make judgement calls when a 350 lb lineman is bearing down on you.

One of our goals here is to simplify the rulebook. We want to take some of the burden off of the official so he doesn't have to be put in a position where a judgement call can determine the winner or loser, or even worse, the spread winner. We also want to eliminate the silliness that we all witness each week. Those awkward moments when we turn to our fellow fan and say, "lemme know when the action starts up again." Finally, and most importantly, we want to see the club that plays the best win the game. Nobody can argue with that.

With that in mind we now proceed with our proposed rule changes. We fully expect some of these changes to be effected in the near future while others may take decades, but we're confident that all of these rule changes will be adopted at one time or another, in one form or another. Where to begin? How'bout at the beginning.

No. 1

BALL SAILS GOAL LINE ON KICKOFF: Spot Ball on 40 (No Downing in End Zone)

We remember when they used to kick off from the 40 yard line. Then Jan Stenerud started knocking it into the end zone every time and every coach just had to have one of them little foreign kickers. Soon nobody was returning kicks so they moved it back to the 35. Then Tony Franklin and the Anderson twins (Gary and Morton) came along so they had to move it back to the 30. Nowadays Jason Elam is still knocking it through the end zone up in that thin air in Denver, and other kickers can still make it with the wind at their backs in those damned open air stadiums, and every kicker can knock it through when there's a penalty on the defense during the point after, which happens more often than you think. Let's face it, we want to see returns. It is one of the most exciting plays in football, but if the league keeps moving the kickoff spot back they'll be kicking off from the goal line by mid-century. That's why GRIDLINE recommends that they keep the kickoff spot at the 30 for good and simply make it worthwhile for the kicking team to keep the ball in play.

We propose that if the ball makes it beyond the goal line on the fly and hits the ground anywhere beyond that point, the play is dead and its 1st and 10 from the 40, just like it went OB. If, however, the kick bounces before the goal line or if the receiving team touches the ball before it hits the ground then we consider it a legal kick and the receiving team is compelled to return the ball, there is no "downing" the ball in the end zone for a touchback. We will allow for touchbacks if the ball lands before the goal line and then bounces out of bounds beyond the goal line, either beyond the end line or side lines. That should add a little drama if the return man decides he doesn't want to field a legal kick.

No. 2


Actually, we weren't aware that the kicking team could get the ball back after a blocked kick but there it was in the Pittsburgh/Cleveland game in week three of the 2002 season. Pittsburgh kicked on 3rd down and the field goal was blocked. Then was a scramble for the loose ball behind the line and Pittsburgh comes up with it, and lo and behold its 4th down and they're trying another field goal. Turns out if the kicking team recovers the loose ball behind the line after a blocked kick they retain possession if they have downs left and if the ball hadn't crossed the line of scrimmage. It's no wonder the officials are confused half of the time. This rule holds for punts as well. We can understand kicking the ball on third down to guard against a bad snap or hold, but to get another shot after a blocked kick? As they say in redubbed-for-TV movies "Forget That!" No Way. You're not going to retain possession of the ball after a bad kick, we don't care if Yo'Mama falls on the ball. Maybe if Yo'Mama falls on the ball, gets up, shows somebody the limp leg and rambles for the first down, but otherwise it's head for the sidelines. Basically, we're saying once the kicker's foot makes contact with the ball treat it as if it was fourth down.

No. 3


It's becoming more and more common. The cover team tries to down the ball on the field of play but they end up knocking the ball into the end zone so they start trotting off the field shaking their heads, and next thing you know some wiseguy return man gets the idea to scoop up the pigskin and starts boogie-ing downfield. He usually fumbles the ball away but it doesn't matter, the worst thing that can happen to the return team in this example is a touchback. We have actually seen teams return downed kicks for touchdowns because in spite of the nomenclature, a downed ball is considered an "illegal touch" under the current rules, and if the referee hasn't blown the whistle it's fair game for the return team. We don't like it. We don't like it when a team doesn't pay the price for fumbling, we don't like it when a team scores a flash TD by exploiting a loophole in the rulebook, and we definitely don't like it when it's left to the official to determine when the play is over. Those guys never blow the whistle at the right time. We'll take it out of the official's hands. The play is over with the contact by the cover team.

No. 4


You see it every game. The defender rushes the line and encroaches before the snap, then he pops back behind the line and its no foul. No foul, that is, UNLESS his actions cause one of the five interior lineman to move, which generally causes the defensive line to move and then there's whistles and shoving and finger pointing and officials getting between players and the ball gets lost and they forget where the line of scrimmage was and the crowd starts to boo. (sigh) It usually all gets sorted out after an officials' huddle, one of the most dreaded occurances in all of sport. The problem is that the offensive lineman is the one calling the penalty, and he's only slightly better at it than the official. Sometimes he's got to act like he was surprised and make his move within an undefined window of time, or else HE'LL get the offsides call. STOP THE INSANITY! This is a simple one and really a no brainer. Why not put the defense on it's heels a little? If a defender encroaches while the center is over the ball its offsides. Period.

No. 5

HOLDING: 5 yards from spot of foul

This one applies to both offense and defense. Talk about simplification.

It has always been 5 yards and a FD on defense, but it's never been a spot foul, instead, they mark it off from the previous spot. It has gotten to the point where DB's are prone latching onto the receivers on first down because they know the worst that can happen is that the ball will move five yards down field. There's no real award of a First Down. We'd like to see it be a little more punitive to the defense. This way, at least the ball will move a bit farther down field and it will get really nasty if somebody latches onto a receiver who's out in a pattern.

On offense, the 10 yards from the previous spot has always been a drive killer. Even with the down replayed it is much too difficult to overcome. We can justify it if the lineman is flagrantly holding in order to prevent a sack. In these cases, since the spot foul would normally occur in the backfield the penalty would basically remain the same, sometimes even worse. But in the case of holding on a running play, where the hold occurs on the line, we'd like to see it's impact on the offense reduced. Besides, its no secret that those big defensive linemen have learned how to make it LOOK like holding. We see it every week of the season. You'd think the officials would have gotten wise by now.

No. 6

PASS INTERFERENCE: 15 Yards and First Down

Pass Interference has been the single most misused and abused rule in pro football for over 25 years. Let's face it, the penalty is far to punitive. The presumption that the receiver would always have caught the ball were it not for the interference is preposterous. If this were a fair conclusion then the penalty for offensive pass interference would have to be a change of possession at the spot of the foul.

It has gotten to a point nowadays where teams are designing plays just to draw PI calls. The league tried to put a stop to it by forgiving incidental contact and making judgements about whether or not a ball was catchable. All we have learned from this expirement is that officials are just as likely to misidentify incidental contact and catchable passes, and teams are STILL designing plays to draw the interference call.

Enough! GRIDLINE favors going with the college rule. This is a practice that has benefitted the league on several occasions, most recently with the adoption of the 2-point try and going as far back as adoption of the forward pass.

Perhaps the biggest argument against the college rule is the real possibility that a defender will tackle the receiver if he is clearly going to run past him for a deep score. In fact, we have actually seen this situation occur on the college field. While we admire a defender's quick thinking in situations like this we do feel that it is counter-productive to our goal of seeing the best team win, so we ask all of you reading this piece to quickly check the above penalty for defensive holding. If both of the rules are adopted together, it is clear that when a defender latches onto a receiver to keep him from getting open, the penalty is 5 yards from the spot of the foul, a result that is even more punitive that the current pass interference penalty.

No. 7


Speaking of adopting college rules, we don't see why they didn't go with this one when they picked up the 2 point try. Currently, if the defense comes up with the ball on a conversion attempt the official may or may not blow the whistle, but it doesn't matter because there's nothing the defender can do. We like it best when he runs all 100 yards of the field, forcing the officials to chase after him blowing their whistles while they try to keep the offensive unit from tackling him. Essentially the officials are blocking for the return man who can't score anyway! We love this kind of foolishness but really, if it's that goofy then it's just wrong. The offense had their chance to do some damage but the defender came up with the ball, now let's see him rock'n'roll. There is no downside here, all we see is a chance for more excitment.

No. 8


Currently, coaches may challenge two calls per half, as long as they have a timeout, and they lose a timeout if the challenge isn't upheld. We like the fact that they have to gamble a timeout, we'll even support the 2 minute rule where only a booth official can call for a replay, what we don't like is the rule about being limited to two challenges. We have seen occasions where a coach has successfully challenged the play on the field twice but he gets rebuffed on a third challenge, even if he has all his timeouts left.

We know the party line that the league office gives us; something about interrupting the action and making the games too long. HOGWASH! That crap's just for the networks who want to keep their prime time schedule intact. True football fans don't care how long the game is as long as it's a good game, and we don't care how often play gets interrupted if it means the right call is made on the field.

What the league should really be worrying about is integrity. Far be it from us to suggest that a corrupt official would purposely blow calls to affect the outcome of a game, but if such a situation were to occur the current rule would play right into his hand.

No. 9


When did football go from the tough man against man, brute force sport of gladiators to the take the snap and kneel spectacle that we see in the last 2 minutes of the game. We know exactly when it was. On November 19th, 1978 the Giants found themselves ahead 17-12 with 1:23 left when QB Joe Pisarcik botched the handoff to Larry Csonka and the Eagle's Herm Edwards scooped up the ball and ran it in 28 yards for the game winning TD. Eagle fans called it "The Miracle in the Meadowlands" but the effect on the game has been sheer sacrilege. The very next week head coaches around the league ordered their quarterbacks to kneel on the ball once they determined that the clock could run out, and they have been doing so ever since.

It is time to put an end to this faux football, which occurs during what otherwise would be the most suspenseful part of the game. We propose that the clock be stopped whenever either team gains no yardage on a play. This serves the duel purpose of eliminating the kneel downs, thereby giving the trailing team an opportunity to stop the clock by stuffing the play, and giving the trailing team another method of stopping the clock when they have posession of the ball. They could, for instance, run a draw play without fear of running out the clock if it gets stuffed (since the clock would stop when the runner is downed behind the line), or they could simply kneel on the ball to stop the clock automatically. A by-product of this rule would be the elimination of the "spiked" pass, which isn't a pass at all and which has become increasingly abused ever since Marino faked it and completed a TD pass.

No. 10

SCORE TIED AT END OF REGULATION: Last team to score receives kickoff in Sudden Death O.T.

14JUL2010 - EDITOR'S NOTE: We decided to back off of our previous proposal, the "Loser Shoots Last" idea, after witnessing the longest tennis match in history, and after sitting through "Extra Time" in the World Cup. We are converts now, let's settle the game at the first opportunity. Our new proposal is so simple we wonder why nobody has come up with it before:

The big complaint in O.T. has always been that the coin toss determines the winner. That's because the team that receives the ball scores on their first possession nearly forty percent of the time. The losers, and their fans, can always claim that if they had won the toss, they would have won the game on their first possession. It leaves them bitter: "If we had just won that coin toss." That's the problem.

The league's solution (at least for the playoffs) is to give the kicking team an "answer" drive if the toss winner scores a FG on the first possession. They then have a chance to win with a TD, or to enter Sudden Death with a tieing FG. No more first possession blues. We feel this is an improvement over the current system, teams won't be able to point at the coin toss unless they give up a TD, and most teams will just grumble under their breath if that occurs. They did, after all, give up a touchdown. Yes, it's an improvement, but at the same time it's a step in the wrong direction.

Our solution is much simpler and it goes back to the root of the problem: The coin toss. Just eliminate it. Award the first possession to the team that scored last in regulation - the team that forced the overtime. It eliminates the complaints because if a team loses on the first possession it's not because of a coin toss, it's because their defense not only lost the lead in regulation, but they also gave up the points that cost them the game in O.T. To complain would be to throw the defense under the bus. Eliminate the coin toss and eliminate the controversy.

Let's return to true Sudden Death, but make it so no one can complain about losing on the first possession. Besides, "Sudden Death" sounds so cool it just has to be right.

As we said, we expect these rules to be adopted sooner or later. Common sense has a way of prevailing even after years of neglect. We will store this particular editorial in our "Featured Articles" section and we'll annotate it from time to time if and when any of these rules is adopted in one form or another. Check back every once in awhile for updates, but for now, our task is complete.