NFL 2011: 5 Changes Roger Goodell, Owners Should Consider Now
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At times, the NFL seems to succeed in spite of itself.
Hideous prime-time games. Rules defying (evident) logic. Dumb broadcast guidelines.
Don't get me wrong; we all know the "F" in NFL doesn't stand for "forward-thinking." The league clings to standards that may have made sense years—or decades—ago (the non-sellout blackout rule, for one).
Increasing the league's global brand is a nice touch; perhaps, it's smart strategy.
But not at the expense of glaring deficiencies, on the field and off, that go ignored.
In the spirit of making a great game even better, here are five changes NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and his owners ought to pursue without delay.
No. 1: Flex Scheduling for Prime-Time Games
Fans of booming kicks can find a Premier League match on another cable channel
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Problem: Sometimes—horrific prime-time games (see past weekend as evidence).
Solution: Agree to switch some prime-time games (subject to a limit and advance notice to teams and fans) based on events beyond the league's control—like a career-threatening injury to a marquee quarterback or teams falling way short of expectations.
Context: Nothing against Jacksonville Jaguar kicker Josh Scobee—the guy tied an NFL record Monday night by nailing three 50-plus yard field goals in the Jag's 12-7 win over Baltimore—but Premier League soccer is available on basic cable for anyone interested in watching guys kick a ball around.
For Sunday or Monday night NFL games, it seems reasonable to expect competitive, entertaining contests between good teams.
We got neither last weekend. The Saints' 62-7 thrashing of Indianapolis was simply embarrassing (to all but the Saints' grateful fans). And the Jaguars-Ravens scrum on ESPN? I've seen Pop Warner teams execute their offenses more effectively.
Scheduling isn't always someone's fault; no one could have predicted the Colts' collapse when schedules were finalized last spring.
But why would Jacksonville—8-8 in 2010—have been tabbed for two Monday nighters this season? And who decided to schedule the Rams at Seahawks for a Monday nighter in December?
No matter; get ready for a healthy dose of the Eagles, Giants, Vikings, Cowboys, Jets and Patriots on Sunday nights (based on this schedule you'd think the NFL had no teams west of the Mississippi).
ESPN's slate is a bit more egalitarian, if not competitive. (can't wait for Vikings-Packers and Chiefs-Pats next month)
Meantime: no sightings of the 49ers, Bills, Bengals or Lions in prime time, although the Niners and Lions do appear on Thanksgiving. As will Miami at Dallas, a turkey of a game if ever there was one.
If the league can trundle teams to London annually, it can surely figure out how to switch a few prime-time games in November and December.
Meantime, be sure not to schedule holiday parties for December 4-5. Wouldn't want to miss Colts-Patriots or Chargers-Jaguars, would we?
No. 2: Reward Successful Challenges
Harbaugh's successful challenges against the Jaguars weren't rewarded
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Problem: Successful use of replay challenges by coaches is not properly rewarded.
Solution: Revisit two-challenge per-game limit.
Context: During Monday's Jaguars-Ravens game, Baltimore coach John Harbaugh utilized two challenges, both successfully. As a reward, he was "allowed" one additional challenge.
That's illogical in the extreme. Other problems with the challenge system aside (see next slide), the "no more than two" rule penalizes coaches who utilize the rule selectively and successfully.
There are several ways to fix this:
—Modify the limit restriction (a successful challenge earns you another)
—To protect against frivolity, add a five-yard penalty for every failed challenge. If that doesn't work, raise it to 10
NFL replay has other imperfections. Read on.
No. 3: (Gasp) Adopt the College Game's Replay Rule
College coaches like Saban needn't worry about refereeing the refs; neither should his NFL brethren
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Problem: NFL replay rules fail to assure that errors by field officials will be reversed.
Solution: Adopt a system similar to that used for the college game, in which every play is reviewed by a booth official.
Context: The NFL deserves to be commended for having taken steps—inadequate, to be sure—to minimize errors by game officials.
If the NFL truly wants error-free contests, replay needs further refinement.
If the college game has every play reviewed by a dispassionate official seated in a booth with multiple video angles, why would the NFL—a faster, more violent, harder-to-officiate game—not do the same?
Politics, egos and heaven-who-knows-what-else has stymied NFL-style replay from being further refined. It's time to check egos at the door and implement a (more) fail-safe system.
Before the colleges adopted their replay system, there was ample teeth-gnashing; the theory was that game officials might freeze, knowing their calls would be second-guessed anyway.
Don't know about you, but I can't recall a single instance where this has occurred.
Given the egos of NFL owners and coaches, one imagines there could be hesitance to adopt a version of the college system simply because the NFL didn't think of it first.
That's foolish and small.
No. 4: Stop Overregulating the Game
Johnson's non-catch in 2010 illuminated an absurd rule; it should be abolished
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Problem: Touchdowns aren't touchdowns unless the scoring player clings to the ball until he's returned to the locker room (well...not quite). Aggressive hits by defenders are presumed to be personal fouls unless proven otherwise.
In short, the game has become grossly over-regulated.
Solution: Difficult to quantify. A good first step would be agreement that this is a bigger problem than the league wants to acknowledge.
Context: Football once was a simpler game.
Touchdowns were elemental. Guy with ball crossed goal line or caught ball in end zone. Zebra raised hands. Fans cheered (or booed).
Playing defense was pretty basic, too. There were personal fouls, sure, but hard hitting was regarded as good. It was the idea.
Nothing's simple now.
Touchdown? Not until officials confer and seven camera angles are scrutinized. Did the elbow touch the ground before the ball crossed the plane? Were both feet down with the ball clearly possessed? Did the runner/receiver continue to possess the ball through his movement to the ground? Whew.
Defense? Shoulder-to-body hits are flagged every week. I'd hate to be a defensive back. C'mon—admit it: nowadays, don't you expect a flag after every big hit? I do.
Let me be clear: This is not an argument against regulating over-the-top, gratuitous violence. Player safety—including the long-term effects of repeated blows to the head—is and must be paramount.
This is an argument for a return to common sense.
No. 5: End Ridiculous TV Blackout Rules
Palmer's Oakland debut came close to being blacked out in the Bay Area
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Problem: NFL broadcast rules haven't caught up to contemporary market realities.
Solution: Eliminate absurd blackout and home-market rules that prevent games from airing in many markets.
Context: For all of its technological advances, the NFL's telecast policies remain in the dark ages.
I live in the San Francisco Bay area. With basic cable, fans here can watch virtually every Giants, As, Warriors and Sharks contest, home and away, live. Every one.
But not pro football. If the Niners play a late game (1 pm PT), home or away, the local CBS affiliate isn't permitted to air an AFC game. If it's the Raiders playing a late game, this market can't see a second Fox NFC game.
Ridiculous. As, of course, is the ancient yet still-in-effect blackout rule that precludes airing telecasts of home games that aren't sold out three days in advance.
No telling if or when the wretched national economy might depress ticket sales or subscriptions to NFL Sunday Ticket. The league's owners, awash in cash, surely aren't worried—yet.