The New Force-out Rule: Trouble Ahead?

Andrew SimpsonCorrespondent IApril 7, 2008

At the NFL owners meeting last week, the annual discussion pertaining to rule changes addressed the "Force Out" rule.

Last year, a defender was not allowed to push a receiver out of bounds while he was in the air, if the referee deemed that the receiver would have landed in-bouds, then the pass was deemed to be complete.

Now this rule has been changed so that the pass will not be considered complete unless the receiver gets two feet in-bounds, and the defender can simply shove the receiver out of bounds.

This rule is going to cause some significant changes to the way teams approach their offense, particularly in the end-zone.

The main issue that the league had with the rule was that it left too much of the decision to the discretion of the umpires. While we should see a clear reduction in the number of mistakes, I feel that this rule is going to have other consequences that will be far more damaging to the league.

Like it or not, Receiver is one of the glamour positions in the NFL, many of the entertainers in the NFL are receivers and they are also generally some of the more injury prone players given their size and stature.

The new interpretation of the force out rule is going to make receivers vulnerable to blindside hits while they are in the air. Many other sports have rules regarding players when they are jumping due to the increased risk of injury to a player who is hit in mid-air.

I think that we will see an aggressive approach to this rule, especially early in the season when Umpires and Players are getting used to the limits and interpretations of the new rule. However, the NFL might be forced into a rethink of this rule when some marquee players are injured due to defenders forcing them out.

We all know that players like Ed Reed and Bob Sanders can hit like a truck, if a player is in mid air, they will be vulnerable to hits that may send them flipping head over heels, with significant injury potential.

A pass is not deemed to be complete unlit the player has control of the ball and makes an "Athletic Movement", so why are we allowing the defense to hit receivers before they land? This new rule has the potential to blur the lines between forcing out and pass interference, and sets a precedent whereby defenders will simply hit the receiver, while making no pretense of attempting to make the interception.

This rule may not have the impact that I expect it to, however there is potential for significant consequences depending on the interpretation of the rules that defenders and referees take.