The NFL's popularity is at an all-time high.
They have become the Midas of the sports world—everything they touch, it seems, turns to gold. Whether it's their merchandise, games or the draft, America can't get enough of what the NFL has to offer.
But as great as they have become, there is still room for improvement and changes.
So I've posed five ideas and/or rules changes that would benefit both the product on the field and the experience away from it. These suggestions will impact fans regardless of where they are—the stands, the couch or the sports bar.
Some are a little more subtle, while others are wholesale modifications to the "norm."
But all are worth the debate.
"Illegal Contact" is to be called whenever contact is made between a defender and any receiver once they have traveled five or more yards past the line of scrimmage and the quarterback is still in possession of the ball and inside of the pocket.
The resulting penalty is five yards from the previous spot plus an automatic first down.
And while the rule itself is not in question, the penalty in its entirety is.
The penalty—five yards and an automatic first down, was a direct result of defensive players mauling receivers and essentially getting away with it, so long as the player being mauled wasn't a targeted receiver.
Proponents of the enhanced penalty—the automatic first-down—argue that it is intended to discourage defensive players from playing too aggressively, thus allowing offensive players to move more-freely through the defense. The rule as a whole, of course, would translate into more points.
Where the penalty falls short, however, is not only its enforcement or the inconsistency of its enforcement, but the sense that the punishment does not fit the crime.
For example, a defensive player caught offsides only costs his team five yards. Only if the offense is within five yards of a first down would the penalty result in a first down, not automatically, like illegal contact.
Furthermore, receivers—and offenses as a whole, are more protected now than ever before with the league's focus on enforcing the "defenseless receiver" and "pass interference" rules, so I say if the league wants to emphasize those two rules, then they should ease up on the penalty to illegal contact.
Give the offense five yards, but make them earn the first down.
The current allotment is six timeouts for the game, with three available in each half.
Under this proposed change, each team would be granted five timeouts for the entire game, to be used at their discretion.
Overtime timeouts would remain unchanged, with each team allotted two.
So, if Team A only used one timeout in the first-half, they would have four available in the second-half. Conversely, if Team A uses three timeouts in the first-half, they would only have two available in the second-half.
Think about the impact of having one fewer timeout.
It would not only force teams to game plan around the use of their timeouts, but would also potentially speed up the game and lead to fewer commercial breaks.
Coaches, meanwhile, would be under even more pressure to appropriately manage time. They would have to debate whether to save a timeout for icing a kicker late in the game, or whether to use one to slow down an opposing hurry-up offense.
Quarterbacks would think twice before spending a timeout in the first quarter because of a defensive scheme they've recognized, or to avoid a delay of game penalty because they've inadvertently run down the time-clock.
The ripples of such a rule change would be far-reaching on the football field, but perhaps even more so for the fan experience.
Isn't that what the NFL is really concerned about?
The NFL draft has become a spectacle like no other in sports.
Every April, fans from all corners of the U.S.—many decked-out from head to toe in team apparel—descend upon Radio City Music Hall in New York City to cheer or jeer their favorite team's draft selections.
But wouldn't it be something if instead of having fans travel to the Big Apple to witness the draft, the NFL brought the draft to its fans?
Much like the league already rotates the site of the Super Bowl, they could also establish a rotation of draft sites in five regions across the U.S. which would allow more fans to experience the draft in person.
And for the sake of the argument, here are the five sites I would choose:
The above-listed cities would allow fans from every NFL team to travel to their respective regional sites to catch the draft once every five years.
And best of all, think about the increased excitement and buzz such a rotation would create.
NFL players are masters of their craft.
So why, I ask, does the NFL feel inclined to crack down on them for celebrating their accomplishments?
I mean, football is entertainment, is it not? I say let 'em dance!
That's right. Let them dance, prance and boogie all over the field. After all, they've earned that right on the practice field and the film room. Moreover, they deserve it for laying it all on the line every snap.
Some may call it showboating, others may call it unnecessary, but I call it a part of the league's history.
Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, Ickey Woods, Jamal Anderson. Just three of the many players who have helped shape the NFL into what it is today because of their iconic celebrations.
And no, celebrating doesn't "take away" from the integrity of the game, as the league contends. Turning their back on an integral part of their past, however, does.
Nix the rule. Let the dancing commence.
And if opposing players and fans don't like it, then don't let the other team score.
The NFL "Blackout" policy is perhaps not only the worst rule in all of sports, but the most-hypocritical as well.
On one hand, the NFL and its owners cry poor when they beg and plead with their local communities to fund stadium construction only to turn around and require those very communities to literally support their teams in order to watch them play on television.
The rule has come under increased scrutiny over the past four or five years because of the tough economic climate many regions and cities are dealing with. Regardless, the NFL insists that the policy is necessary to protect their business.
So in other words, we'll build the stadiums on your dime, but don't ask us for any handouts.
It sounds fair if you're the team owner, but if you're the taxpayer, forget about it.
The NFL and its owners are hedging their bets that their product will always be in demand. Thus far, it has proven true. But how much longer can that sort of mentality hold its ground?
Furthermore, shame on the NFL for allowing dollars and cents to supersede common sense and courtesy.
I say nix the rule and give fans everywhere the opportunity to watch their favorite teams play.
That's what television revenue is for anyhow, right?