Fixing the NFL

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It’s Thanksgiving weekend and that means food, family and football (and perhaps shopping for the truly psychotic). Of course, I didn’t start this blog to discuss food or family, and I damn sure didn’t start it to talk about shopping. So today we’re going to look the disaster that is the NFL and figure out how we can improve it.

(You will notice I’m posting this the weekend between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl.  I’d like to pretend that’s because I’m timing this perfectly when we need some football in our lives, but really I’m just that lazy.)

Now, before we begin, let’s discuss the 2 elephants in the room: the concussion disaster and the relatively recent hazing mess in Miami that’s become all the rage. Now, almost anyone who knows me I fall somewhere close to the bleeding heart point on the political spectrum, so they’d probably expect me to say the NFL should start playing flag football and anyone found to haze a player should be banned permanently. Not so.

See, I understand that the NFL is an entirely different beast from pretty much any other profession on earth. If these things were happening at a Wall Street brokerage…ok, bad example. If this were happening at a public accounting firm or a newspaper, the employees would be fired on site. But the NFL thrives on violence and manliness, and to pretend that you can just turn that off once you hit the locker room is lunacy. At the risk of sounding like a, “Durrr…foobaw” cretin jackass, football comes with a certain amount of collateral damage. Countless dead players, Michael Vick’s dogs, Jovan Belcher’s girlfriend, Aaron Hernandez’s victim(s)…sadly, this is the price we pay for being entertained on Sunday afternoons.

And sure, when a game starts to rack up a body count, people in today’s world tend to think that the game won’t be the same in 20 years. Here’s the problem: no one has stopped watching. Super Bowl ratings break records every year. Every week the NFL’s games are the highest rated in the country by millions. A Monday Night Football game between two of the worst teams in the league barely lost the ratings battle to a World Series game. And the first blackout of the year didn’t take place until Week 13.

So we have to accept the premise that until someone dies on the field – and I’m not talking about Junior Seau killing himself because of repeated head trauma but rather something along the lines of Ray Chapman – the game isn’t going anywhere. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on how to make the game more enjoyable/less stupid.

The Kicking Game

Field goals are boring. Punts are boring. That said, to some extent they’re necessary at certain points. But we’re going to de-emphasize them.

Field Goals: There’s nothing that drives me crazier than a team getting first and goal on the 5 only to see the drive stall and them taking the guaranteed 3 points. And they will take the points, because football coaches are pussies who won’t get fired because they kicked a field goal instead of going for it on fourth and 2. The problem is that field goal kickers (well, other than David Akers) have become ridiculously accurate with legs that can kick a ball 70 yards on the fly, so a field goal isn’t as much of a risk as it was in the ’70s and ’80s.

So we’re de-emphasizing the field goal at a certain point. Or rather changing their value. It doesn’t make sense that a field goal from 50 yards out is worth the same as a field goal from 20 yards out. Here’s how it works:

  • Any kick inside the 20 (basically, you’re giving up inside the 3-yard line): 1 point
  • Kicks between the 20-30: 2 points
  • Kicks from the 30-45: 3 points
  • Kicks from beyond the 45-yard-line: 4 points

Also, any missed field goals from beyond the 45-yard-line will see the ball spotted at the original line of scrimmage, not the spot of the missed kick.

Fun, huh?

Extra Points: Since 2011, kickers have missed 18 extra points.  Out of 3,709.  That’s a 99.5% success rate.  That, my friends, is pointless to watch. So we’re getting rid of them. Touchdowns are worth 7 points. If you want to go for the 2-point conversion, you take the point off the board and you go for 2. It’s a little clumsy, but I’m tired of watching something so automatic. There’s no challenge in it.

(Note: I started writing this post over the Thanksgiving weekend in 2013.  In January 2014 Roger came out and suggested a plan practically identical to the one suggested above.  You’ll have to take my word for that one.  The lesson: if I wasn’t so damn lazy, I’d have grounds to sue the NFL.)

Punting: No problems with punting, but it’s the easy play. Also, fans don’t pay to watch punters. One small alteration to be made: no punting if the offense has passed into the defense’s territory. If a coach wants to waste two downs to get behind the 50-yard-line so he can punt the ball away, that’s his right. But I’d rather see him try for one of those cool 4-point field goals.

Goalposts: Raise them at least 10 feet. I’m tired of hearing Adam Carolla whine every time a kicker kicks the ball over the top of one of the goalposts. It happens several times a year.

By the way, it should come as no surprise that I hate defense.

Penalties

Automatic First Down: Third down, 17 to go, cornerback holds the wide receiver 7 yards past the line of scrimmage, pass falls incomplete, ref calls the hold, 5 yard penalty, automatic first down. Stupid. Let the penalty yardage determine first down. The only exception is personal fouls, which are called because they could cause bodily harm, in which case you get the fifteen yards and the first down.

Offsetting Penalties: Imagine a play where the defense gets called for a 5-yard defensive hold, but the left guard holds a guy 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage. By rule those are offsetting penalties and the down is replayed. This is asinine. Somehow the NFL has decided that a 5-yard penalty and a 10-yard penalty are worth the same if they happen on the same play. On the play in question, apply the 10-yard penalty (which is actually a 13-yard penalty because of where the hold took place) and then walk off the 5-yard defensive hold. One team doesn’t get bailed out because the other team committed a lesser penalty.

Celebration/Taunting: I don’t watch football for sportsmanship, I watch it to watch outstanding physical specimens compete at the highest level.  I don’t give a damn if a guy gives a Riverdance performance after scoring a touchdown or gives a throat slash gesture after sealing the game winning interception.  It’s an amped up game played by physical monsters sweating adrenaline and testosterone.  Let them celebrate without repercussions.

Instant Replay

Number of Challenges: Under current rules, every coach gets two challenges per game. If he gets them both right, he gets a third. If he gets only one of the two challenges correct, he loses his potential third challenge. This essentially penalizes the team for the referees’ mistake. Change the rules so that incorrect challenges are tied to timeouts. If you have 3 timeouts left, you get 3 incorrect challenges (since the penalty for an incorrect timeout is the team losing a timeout). If that means the officiating crew has 8 calls overturned during the game, so be it. I want the calls right, and I don’t care how long it takes. Challenges are not so time-consuming that they justify allowing the wrong call to stand. Plus we just shaved a bunch of time getting rid of extra points, so we’ve got time to make up.

End Zone Challenges: All touchdown calls are automatically reviewed. You know what aren’t automatically reviewed? Questionable end zone calls that aren’t called touchdowns. This is not an insignificant distinction. A few years back, the Lions (after using their two challenges, one of which was a correct challenge, if my memory serves) had a touchdown ruled an incomplete pass. Had the call been ruled a touchdown, it would’ve been reviewed. It was ruled incomplete, the call was not reviewed, and since the Lions had no challenges remaining, the call stood. They settled for a field goal, lost by 4, and dropped from the 5th to the 6th seed in the playoffs.

(I’m not bitter.)

Anything questionable in the end zone should be automatically reviewed. Period. It should not matter if the play is called a touchdown or an incompletion.

Plays Subject to Review: A pretty substantial amount of plays in the NFL are reviewable. That’s not enough. Everything should be subject to review. Penalties are relatively objective (although not always), and can turn the tide of a game. If a coach wants to spend a challenge because he thinks a pass interference call should be overturned, he should have that right.

Playoffs/Scheduling

Divisions: This is perhaps my most controversial proposal.  We’re ditching conferences for reasons that will be explained shortly.  As such, we no longer need an AFC North and NFC North.  We’re renaming the divisions to celebrate the history of the NFL:

  • AFC East: Mara Division
  • AFC North: Halas Division
  • AFC South: Thorpe Division
  • AFC West: Rozelle Division
  • NFC East: Rooney Division
  • NFC North: Brown Division
  • NFC South: Davis Division
  • NFC West: Hunt Division

You’ll notice that these names have no correlation with any of the teams in that given division.  There’s a reason for that.  There are historical figures big enough to name a division after in every division except the NFC and AFC South.  As such, these 8 names were assigned to divisions they had no relationship with.  Owners of AFC teams were assigned to NFC divisions and vice versa, with as much effort being used to keep them in their geographical region as possible.

Scheduling: Minimal and optional changes.  As it stands, teams play 2 games against their division rivals (6 games), a game against every team in another division in their conference (4) a game against every team in a division in the other conference (4) and 2 games against the teams in their conference that finished in the same position record-wise the previous year.  This can remain the same, either recalling the traditional conferences or with the other seven divisions rotating where applicable.

Calendar: The final games of the regular season will always be played the last weekend of December, with the playoffs being played in January/February.  There will be no regular season games played in January.  This hasn’t been a major issue historically, but we’re putting it into the calendar permanently.

Playoff Expansion: It’s already been suggested that the league expand the playoffs to 14 teams.  I’m adopting that, although for somewhat different reasons.  When the NFL restructured their  divisions to go from 6 5-team divisions to 8 4-team divisions, they eliminated 2 Wild Card teams.  Adding the seventh teams in each conference remedies that issue.

Playoff Seeding: As I said earlier, we’re eliminating the Conferences and seeding the teams 1-14 based on record, and record alone.  Division winners get no preference because they played in a bad division.  If a the Packers win the Brown Division at 8-7-1 while the 49ers are a 12-4 Wild Card team, the 49ers get the higher seed and the potential home game.  The first tiebreaker will be head-to-head, the second tiebreaker will be division winners, and then the typical tiebreakers apply.  If 3 teams are 12-4, and 2 are division winners, the Wild Card gets the lowest seed.  Teams are reseeded after every round as they are now.  If this means we wind up with a Seahawks-49ers Super Bowl, so be it (and having seen their game last week, I think we’d all be better for it).

(Ideally here is the point where I’d list out the seedings as they would have been this season had these rules been in effect, but I’m too lazy to figure out the tiebreakers.)

There are other things in the NFL that can be fixed.  Their overtime rules are generally stupid.  There are ways to get the benefit of an 18-game season without actually going to an 18-game season (stretching it out to 19 weeks seems like the ideal fix, but I haven’t figured that out yet).  The players are screwed by not getting guaranteed money.  And the concussion situation needs to be fixed, but that’s beyond my comprehension.  But while some of my suggestions are ridiculous and will never be implemented, other things make a ton of sense and would make the game more fun.

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