By Brian Burke
American 'gridiron' football isn't a static, unchanging sport. It's been remade many times in many different ways. There used to be no passing, 3 downs to make 5 yards, various point values for scoring plays, blockers were allowed to lock arms, and the game lasted 70 minutes. Today's sport would be unrecognizable to players and fans at the beginning of the previous century.
Here are some ideas, many borrowed from other leagues and other sports. I don't necessarily favor any of them (except for #5, which would be highly entertaining). I just think they're interesting.
The status quo has the power of inertia, so as you consider any idea for a rule change, imagine if football had always been that way and whether or not we'd want to change the game to the way it actually is now.
For example, there could be a penalty box for players flagged for helmet-to-helmet hits or other flagrant fouls. Offenders would have to sit out for, say, 10 minutes of game time. But unlike in hockey, his team could replace him on the field with a backup. Think of it as a short-term ejection. Maybe it sounds crazy to you, or maybe it's not crazy enough, but imagine if it had always been that way and we were considering eliminating that rule. You might feel differently.
Here are a few ideas to get things rolling. Looking forward to everyone's comments and own suggestions.
1. Penalty box - Deter unwanted behavior by hitting dirty players where it hurts the most, by taking them off the field.
2. Narrow the goal posts - Field goals are the least interesting, most random, but often the most decisive play in the entire sport. A single specialist rolls the dice in a classic example of sample-error theater. We should encourage fewer FG attempts and more 4th down conversion attempts, which are some of the most exciting and pivotal plays.
3. Reduce a FG to 2 points.
4. Eliminate the extra point - The XP is the vestigial appendix of American football. Seriously, what's the point? It's a foregone conclusion it will be made, and on the rarest of occasions it's missed, it probably won't affect the game outcome. There are lots of ideas for replacing it:
- Must always go for 2-pt conversion
- 1 point for a try from the 1 yd-line, 2 points from the 3 (or 2 or 5 or wherever)
- A TD is always 7 full points, a team can gamble 1 point by attempting a 2-point try from the 2.
- A team can gamble up to 3 extra points (kind of like Final Jeopardy) by attempting a conversion. So if a team bets 3 points, it can score 9 on a single TD! A failed conversion attempt makes the TD worth only 3. How exciting would that be? Would you be getting up to grab another beer during one of those plays?
5. Here's my favorite idea: The player who scores the touchdown has to kick the XP.
6. Relegation - Just like in the English 'Association Rules' leagues, the NFL could be divided into different levels. Let's say that over the next 5 years, the top half the league in total wins goes to the A-league, while the others go to the B-league. After those 5 years, A-league teams and B-league teams never play each other in a season. The playoff teams and Super Bowl champion only come from the A-league. Each year the bottom 3 (or 4 or whatever) teams in the A-league swap places with the top 3 (or so) teams in the B-league. That would keep things exciting for a lot more fans. The fans of the 12 teams both sides of the bubble would be riveted through the final snap of the season. Also, there would be fewer blow-outs, as the match-ups would tend to be more even. The A and B teams would always get the same share of the overall revenue they now do, to help maintain competitive balance.
7. Adopt the Rouge from the CFL. Watch that video and tell me that's not the most awesome thing you've ever seen on a football field.
8. Adopt other ideas from the CFL, such as the wider field and deeper end zones.
9. NCAA-style replay rules - It seems so much faster and at least as accurate.
10. Challenges available until you’re wrong - Why should a coach forfeit a challenge if he was right?
11. No coin flip in OT - This is one of my long-held pet peeves. No matter how contrived the NFL makes the OT rules, why does it have to start with a coin flip? Why not award the flip based on home field? Home field advantage is already an accepted part of the game, and playoff teams have to earn home field during the season. This way both teams, as they head toward a potential tie in regulation, will know who would have the advantage. If I'm marching down the field to tie things up with a FG, I might be more aggressive knowing I would start OT on defense. If I need a TD to tie, I might just go for the 2-pt conversion knowing I might not ever get the ball.
There are lots of other interesting options for how to decide who starts with the ball in OT:
-A yard-line bid, either sealed or an open auction a la Name That Tune
-A split-the-cake method, where one coach picks the kickoff yard-line and the other chooses whether to kick or receive
-And so on. There are a million other ideas here.
12. Player weight limit - It's hard to believe any human being is naturally larger than 300 lbs. They do it in boxing and wrestling. It would be healthier for the players. The linemen would be quicker, more athletic. It might help the running game become more exciting.
13. Total team weight limit - There's a salary cap, so how about a weight cap for the entire roster?
14. No roster size limit - If there's a hard salary cap, why shouldn't teams be able to dress 60 guys on Sunday? Teams would have different philosophies, quality vs. quantity. If you sign a big free agent, you might have to get by dressing 45 guys.
15. Eliminate the draft - The draft is almost a sport unto itself, and it provides grist for us to talk about in the spring. But if there is a hard salary cap, what's the point? If all teams must limit the total resources they spend on players, why shouldn't new rookies enter the league as free agents?
16. Official scorers - Allow the game scorers the discretion to call interceptions as tipped, by his own receiver or by a defender. They already do that in a way with forced and unforced fumbles. In baseball, the scorer awards errors, so why should football be different? This would give all fans a clearer measure of which QBs are making poor throws and which are victims of their receivers bobbling the ball 10 feet into the air.
17. One foot in-bounds.
published on 2/09/2011