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The Wussification Of American Football?

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I'll be honest with you. I don't think I'd ever heard of then Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell - and I don't think I missed out on much either - until the end of last year: Rendell apparently was upset that the NFL postponed the Dec. 26 game between the Eagles and the visiting Vikings because the weather forecast predicted 12 inches of snow. The game was rescheduled for the 28th, the Eagles lost and Rendell delivered an epic rant.

"My biggest beef is that this is part of what's happened in this country," Rendell said in a radio interview in Philly. "I think we've become wussies. ... We've become a nation of wusses."

Back in March our own KD Drummed summarized the 2011 NFL rule changes. Very briefly, these rules changes were about a kinder, gentler kickoff game, expanding the definition of a defenseless player and more fines for illegal hits. Are these rule changes that are designed to improve player safety, or are they a sign that "wussification" is going on in the NFL? I know that some people will point to the legalization of the forward pass in 1906 as the start of the decline of Football As We Know It, and while that can be debated, there's no denying that the game has changed significantly over the years.

Whether the recently implemented rule changes will actually impact the game significantly remains to be seen, but they did provoke quite a reaction from football fans, both positive and negative. So here's my question, if you were the commissioner for a day, what rules would you change? I have a couple of proposals after the break.

The NFL tweaks its rules every season. Many of these changes feel like over-reactions to what happened in the previous season and often these changes are difficult to understand and difficult to officiate. Also, most of these changes are added on top of the existing rules. Like tax law, the constant change and growing complexity (tuck rule, anybody?) lead to a steadily increasing uncertainty about the rules of the game. For fans, players and coaches.

The 2010 NFL Official Playing Rules spanned 146 tightly typed pages. And it will be more next year. Here are the top five rules that I would change if I were the commissioner for a day (but for his regular $10 million salary, not the current $1 PR ploy):

1. Pass interference.

All other penalties are generally five to fifteen yards, defensive pass interference is the only spot foul. This can result in potentially game breaking penalties of 50 yards or more. Why not adopt the NCAA rule on this one? Their penalty for DPI is either 15 yards from the line of scrimmage, or a spot foul if the play went for less than 15 yards. Add an automatic first down and we're set.

2. Challenge flags

NFL challenge rules allow two challenges per game. If a call is not overturned, the challenging team loses a timeout. A third challenge can be awarded to a team, but only if it is successful in both of its previous challenges. I never understood this rule. Even with a successful challenge, teams are effectively penalized by having one less challenge flag left.

Why not simply give the teams the rights to two unsuccessful challenges per game? If your challenge is successful, you keep your right to challenge, if it's unsuccessful you lose a challenge.

3. The Ground Can't Cause a Fumble in Football

The ground can either cause a fumble or not. But you can't have it both ways. Right now, there are three different rules. One set of rules for runners, another for receivers and yet a third for anybody going after a loose ball. Here are excerpts from the NFL rule book in all their glory:

  • QB's and running backs (Rule 7, Section 4, Article 1): "When a runner is contacted by a defensive player and he touches the ground with any part of his body except his hands or feet, ball shall be declared dead immediately. [Example:] A runner (in full possession of the ball) is contacted by an opponent while he is attempting to gain yardage. The contact causes the runner to hit the ground, at which time the ball comes loose. Ruling: Play is dead when the impact jars the ball loose. No fumble."
  • Wide Receivers (Rule 8, Section 1, Article 4, Item 1): "If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball after he touches the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete."
  • Loose ball recovery (Rule 3, Section 2, Article 7): "A player who goes to the ground in the process of attempting to secure possession of a loose ball must maintain control of the ball after he touches the ground. If he loses control of the ball, there is no possession."

4. This one's for fun: One foot in bounds versus two feet in bounds

In the NFL, receivers need to get two feet in bounds (with control of the ball) for a valid catch. In college and high school, one foot in bounds is enough. Conversely, in high school and college a defender can push a receiver out of bounds while he’s in the air and thereby prevent a completion, while in the NFL, the officials can overrule the push if they think the receiver would have come down in bounds.

There's nothing really wrong with either rule, but it just makes no sense whatsoever to have different rules at different levels.

[Edit: As many of you have noted, the push-out rule has been changed a while back. My bad]

5. And this one's just because I could:

The "Lambeau Leap", like any other excessive touchdown celebration across the league, would get flagged immediately. But instead of a 15-yard penalty, it would carry an automatic 30-yard penalty for excessive cheesiness.

Which rule would you change if you were the commissioner?