Roundtable: What rule change would you like to see most in the NFL?
This month, NFL owners approved a measure to move extra points back to the 15-yard line, but why stop there? It's no secret that the NFL has plenty of convoluted, confusing, non-intuitive rules that baffle even the smartest of referees each season, in addition to some long-standing fan complaints about how the game could be made better with a small tweak. The writers and editors of SI.com's NFL staff lay out which rule changes they would like to see most and why.
Don Banks: Fix the catch rule, and decree a return to sanity, when a catch was a catch was a catch—Back when I first started watching and following the NFL, long before Bert Emanuel, and Calvin Johnson, and Dez Bryant became the inspiration for an impossibly complicated and convoluted section of the league’s rule book, you knew what a catch was and what they looked like. It wasn’t a lot trickier than possession of the ball and two feet down in bounds. Take in any old NFL Films clip and you can see that the league once routinely managed to make such judgments without launching a full-scale scientific investigation to ensure a “football move” had been executed.
Now? You’ve got the NFL’s well-meaning but far-too-involved competition committee residing entirely too close to the forest to see the trees on this issue. They’ve layered and layered so much language and specificity to the catch rule that even those who have held the league’s director of officials job can’t consistently define what is and isn’t a reception. Let alone the game officials. We’re through the looking glass on this issue, folks, and I long for the days when a catch had to simply pass the eye test and almost everyone could instantly recognize it. John Madden is still right. Even if you’ve never been one of those four guys at a bar, they are a pretty good litmus test for what common sense dictates. If they all think they’ve seen a catch, it’s a catch.
So sorry, Dez. As the rule is written now, you didn’t “catch” the ball last January in Green Bay. Even though we all know you did. It’s just a bad rule, being enforced inconsistently. But we’re going to fix it. And we’re going to go old school to do it. A catch is hereby possession of the ball, with two feet down. Upon further review, why did it ever have to change?
Chris Burke: Legalize touchdown celebrations—I already made the case on our most recent Audibles podcast for relaxing both the illegal contact rules and penalties, so let's take this in another direction entirely ... Legalize touchdown celebrations. All of them.
Rule 12, section 3 of the league's rule book currently covers unsportsmanlike conduct. Of the 22 possible offenses, five are related to celebrations. The NFL currently does not permit choreographed celebrations involving more than one player, celebrations while on the ground, using props (see: Terrell Owens' Sharpie or popcorn), or removing one's helmet. As of last season, players also are no longer permitted to "dunk" the ball over the crossbar.
Can we just relax? There's a reason people mockingly call it the "No Fun League", and this is a prime example. The refs may as well announce the celebrations penalties as "15 yards for not thinking of the children."
I'm not saying that guys need to react like Rod Tidwell in "Jerry Maguire" and show up the other team with a five-minute dance. But did it really offend people when the Falcons used to "Dirty Bird" or when Doug Baldwin pretended to, uh, clear a football from his system during the Super Bowl?
It's a game. Let the players have some fun.
Doug Farrar: Make everything reviewable—This makes so much sense, but the NFL has resisted the need to make every penalty reviewable under the current technology. Many of the most important and subjective calls are not reviewable—pass interference is the primary example—and the only reason I can think why this is the case is that the league doesn't want its officials put under closer scrutiny.
Former VP of Officiating Mike Pereira fought hard to keep the "human element" as part of the game, but shouldn't we know better than that now? Bill Belichick has led this charge for a number of years, bringing it to the forefront of every discussion at the owners meetings when the Competition Committee discusses rules changes, but the league continues to turn a blind eye. More and more coaches are agreeing with Belichick, perhaps as their own teams find their fortunes unwound by inevitable missed calls and erroneous penalties.
"It's about time to recognize that when the fans have a better view of the game than the referee does," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said in 2014."It's time to put the referee on the same playing field as the fans, and you do that through the technology. They have great ideas and ways to do it."
And this shouldn't make games longer if the current rules regarding the number of replays are kept in place. Why is that so hard to do?
Bette Marston: Allow each team to have three timeouts per game—There's a growing concern that NFL games are taking too long, thanks to replays, injuries and more. My response? Limiting each team to three timeouts ... total. It's the quickest way to earn back some time and force teams to have better clock management (I'm looking at you, Andy Reid).
Between the 40 seconds between snaps, the increasing number of reviews and the commercial breaks, there should be plenty of time for coaches to plan their plays and get their guys in order. Heck, a coach can even pull a Greg Schiano and throw a challenge flag to earn some sideline time if absolutely necessary. Sure, there may be a little less drama at the end of the first half, but many teams already have one foot in the locker room when the two-minute warning hits. Plus, the NFL wants to improve the in-stadium experience, right? So decrease the time that the players are standing around (and the fans areplaying on their smartphones).
One aspect of the timeout rules that should remain the same are the rules regarding injuries after the two-minute warning in either half. Since they're long and kind of confusing, I direct you to Rule 4, Section 5, Article 4 of the NFL rule book (on page 4).
Amy Parlapiano: Make pass interference reviewable—This one was tough, as the NFL has a good amount of rules that I’d like to see changed (with the PAT at the bottom of my priority list, but alas, I’m not at the owners meetings for some reason.) It’s going to take a while before the NFL ever approves a rule that makes every single penalty reviewable, but I think if we’re going to start somewhere, we should start with PI. Here is a very obvious statement: There have been far too many games that have been decided by phantom PI calls. It’s about time that problem is addressed.
Coaches should have the option to use one (or both) of their challenges on a pass interference call if they feel it is egregious enough. (And to be clear, this means only challenging an actual penalty, not a no-call that they think should be one.) Some think the best solution is changing PI permanently to a 15-yard penalty. I don’t agree with that, it should absolutely remain a spot foul, but the fact that it is means there should be a huge emphasis on always getting it right. That doesn’t happen nearly enough right now, and it’s something that, if properly changed, will have a huge impact on the quality of the game.
Eric Single: Give both teams at least one possession in overtime, no matter what—Overtime is too rare—only 12 games needed the extra quarter last season—to waste all its drama on one heroic play. A common-sense adjustment to curb the stilted cruelty of the current sudden death structure: Let both teams have the ball, even if a touchdown is scored on the opening drive. A defensive touchdown at any time would still end the game, and after each team's first drive the current rules would return, but the trailing team is spared the injustice of playing an even 60 minutes and losing without touching the ball again.
This tweak addresses the least popular aspect of NFL overtime, mitigating the advantage given to the team that starts with the ball, while steering clear of the least popular aspect of college overtime, which can feel like a glorified red zone drill. Surely, the NFL has little interest in making games any longer than they already are, and the casual fan may bristle at more changes to a format they only just got used to. But how many people outside of the Pacific Northwest would have turned down another drive or two in the NFC Championship Game?