Potential Rule Changes For the NFL 2016 Season
As March approaches, so too does the annual meeting of the NFL’s Competition Committee, made up of owners, team and league executives, and coaches. They meet each March to discuss potential rule changes and eventually propose some of them for the 32 owners to vote on, and to take effect the coming NFL season. This year the meeting will be held in the same city as last month’s Super Bowl - Phoenix, AZ, and they will have more than plenty to talk about after the events of this past season.
The overall officiating has been under more scrutiny over recent years and questionable officiating calls also potentially affected the outcome of more than one playoff game this past season. With the increasing use of instant replay and the ability to put every play under a microscope, momentum is building to expand the use of instant replay to include challenging fouls.
As Jon Price, a sports radio personality said in an interview, “When it starts to affect the integrity, and the outcome of some of these games the committee needs to step in. Obviously, you could make a point that Green Bay should have played Detroit instead of Dallas in the second round.” Referring to the pass interference call against Dallas linebacker, Anthony Hitchens which was then picked up after a long discussion. “That’s why we have the competition committee, to make sure the game is evolving in the right way that’s best for the sport. I think a lot of people would consider that Hitchens interference call, which was obvious contact and got picked up and maybe cost [Detroit] a chance to win. So I think they’ll look at that, and hopefully we can make some progress this year.”
The over-officiating of games has been a hot topic among many for the past few years and it seemed to culminate during the recent NFL playoffs where some questionable officiating calls got a lot of attention in more than one contest. While there were some great and memorable moments like Tom Brady and the Patriots overcoming two 14 point deficits to lead his team to a comeback win over the Ravens in Foxborough, or Russell Wilson’s heroics to lead the Seahawks back to beat the Packers in overtime. There were also a few calls that left teams wondering not just what could have been, but what should have been.
There’s plenty of proposals on the board this year; Some are familiar faces like expanding the number of playoff teams and adjustment to the overtime rule, and some are more new like the narrowing of field goal posts or pushing back extra points to the 15 yard line, which the NFL experimented with during preseason last year.
Let’s take a look at some of the rules that have garnered some attention recently and will be up for discussion at this coming meeting of the NFL’s Competition Committee.
1. “Calvin Johnson Rule” - The rule which once again came under scrutiny in the playoffs this year when Dez Bryant went up for a potential game winning catch in the closing minutes of the Divisional Round game against the Packers, and appearing to make the catch. But upon going to the ground, the ball came loose. Originally called a catch on the field, the call was overturned after instant replay.
The head of NFL Officiating, Dean Blandino said about the call, “The rule is pretty clear that when you go to the ground and make the catch you have to hold onto the ball through the entire process. In order for it to be a football move, it’s got to be more obvious than that. It was all part of his momentum in going to the ground.”
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While some will inevitably disagree with Blandino, most would agree that the official of the game, Gene Steratore, called it correct according to the rule, but a growing number of people believe that rule should be changed.
As Jon Price from SportsInformationTraders.com said, “When you allow for interpretations of the rules, you allow for bad interpretations of those rules. It’s not a science, but we need to eliminate the subjective element as much as possible from these scenarios on the field.”
2. “Anthony Hitchens Rule” - In the closing minutes of the Dallas-Detroit first round playoff game, Dallas linebacker, Anthony Hitchens was flagged for pass interference in what seemed to be a pretty obvious call. To the surprise of many, the flag was eventually picked up by officials after a long discussion. Without the ability to consult replay the controversial play left a bitter pill for the Detroit Lions and their fans to swallow and garnished national attention in the following days.
Coach Belichick offered a similar proposal last year to allow replay of any type of play a coach wishes to, and while it may have seemed too early at the time, after the events of this past NFL Playoffs, we’re inching closer to that scenario or something similar.
3. “Kam Chancellor Rule” - In the opening round of the NFL Playoffs, Kam Chancellor made two exceptional plays on special teams when he jumped over both the offensive and defensive line on a field goal attempt, and proceeded to block the attempt. While Chancellor didn’t land on anyone, Blandino has already expressed that it’s an area of concern that will require more attention this offseason.
When asked, Blandino explained, “It is legal because he jumped from off the line of scrimmage, he didn’t land on a player, and he certainly didn’t use the body of a teammate or opponent to gain leverage to get additional height. But there’s a safety element to it.”
4. “Brandon Browner Rule” - Similar to Belichick’s idea of allowing coaches to challenge any type of play, this rule deals specifically with reviewing illegal hits to the head of players. In realtime, it can be tough to decipher an illegal hit to the head from a violent, but clean hit. With the expansion of replay in recent years, it seems inevitable that the league will act in some capacity to ensure that it’s utilizing replay to its full potential.
While many fans may not be ready for a replay-happy league where games average 3-6 replays, I think most fans and those on the NFL’s Competition Committee share the same goal, and that’s to get the call right. We’re looking forward to the committee’s meeting in March, anxiously awaiting to see where next year’s proposed rule changes will take America’s favorite game.