The NFL just voted on and passed a few new rule changes.
Kickoffs are being moved up from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line. The change was made as a move for safety; the assumption being that we’ll have significantly less returns and fewer chances for injury. Also, the kicking team is now being given only a five-yard running head start, where they could get 10+ before.
Devin Hester and Josh Cribbs blew up Twitter with their rants about the modification, but I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. The fact that kicking teams will lose a significant amount of momentum without as long of a running start will largely offset the increased instances of returners catching the ball shallow in the end-zone and needing to take a knee because of closing coverage.
In a second change, all scoring plays are now reviewed by the booth. This, I find slightly irksome.
Hopefully if a guy catches a pass in the middle of the end-zone without a bobble, the officials won’t be required to stop play for much more than two seconds. If we really have to “review” every touchdown, the game is going to slow to an even more painful pace.
On the bright side, this completely eliminates the horrid scenario where a player clearly didn’t score, but the opposing coach doesn’t have any challenges left. (In that same light, why coaches lose a challenge when they’re correct is beyond me. An official could still blow four important calls for a team and the last one will slip by because of a completely inane system.)
However, the most interesting ruling is that all fields must stay the color green unless a change is approved by the league.
To maintain its brand, the NFL has unflinchingly fought for parity and homogeny. I’ve theorized that that is why players can’t take their helmets off on the field; not out of safety or squashing overzealous celebration, but because of maintaining the image of iron-masked gladiators. The less we know “players” and their faces, and the more we know “teams of warriors," the more the overarching NFL brand is reinforced.
The preemptive move about field color—no team was actually lobbying to make a change—seems in that same vein. A lot of people hate Boise State’s blue turf, but would it be unreasonable if, say, the Raiders wanted to make their field black with silver yardlines? Combined with the Black Hole and a sweltering late summer day, we’re talking about a pretty intimidating home venue. If I lived in Oakland, I’d listen to both sides of that debate.
But, I’d imagine the bigger concern would be over sponsorship and if an advertiser lobbied to have their name or color put on the field. Keeping a tight and watchful grasp on every possible revenue stream, and assuring that it’s redistributed properly, is the only component monitored more closely than the league's brand.
Either way, unlike the MLB and their diverse and sometime weird fields, the NFL misses no opportunity to maintain consistency across players, coaches and franchises.
Right down to that last blade of grass.