The NFL Competition Committee has been meeting over the past several days to discuss what potential rule changes might take place next season. If you recall, one of the big rule changes last year involved the changes to overtime rules in the postseason. What is the committee suggesting this year that could impact the rules of the game significantly?
Former head of officiating Mike Pereira discussed the proposed changes and his thoughts on them in a column on FOXSports.com. The full competition committee conference call transcript is here. Let's take a look at what we could be in store for next season:
1. Major Changes on Kickoff Returns
There were several proposals made for kickoff returns, all of which seem to be lumped together in the same proposal. Teams currently kick off from the 30-yard line, and any touchbacks are brought out to the 20. Under the new rule, the ball would be moved forward five yards -- the kicking team would kick from the 35-yard line, and any touchbacks would be brought back to the 25-yard line.
Under the current system, players can still form wedges of two players. A proposed change would eliminate any form of a multiple-person wedge. Additionally, all players on the kicking team can only line up between the 30 and 35 yard lines to prevent them from getting a full head of steam.
On the surface, I hate the sound of these rule changes. Last season, we already saw how a kicker like Billy Cundiff can boom the ball into the end zone for touchbacks at will. More and more in this league, we see explosive return men take kicks to the house. How exciting would it be if a team needs a big touchdown return on a kickoff late in the fourth quarter, only to see the kicker hit the ball out of the end zone? I know the ball would start at the 25 now, but I would easily take five extra yards to prevent a return.
To me, that is what this rule is designed to do: prevent returns in general. The NFL is concerned with player safety, and because of how "dangerous" being one of those players on a kickoff is, Pereira thinks the rule will pass easily. Ugh.
2. Replay Review Changes
There are two proposals lumped together with this rule change. First, teams would no longer have the option of gaining a third challenge by winning their first two challenges. Two challenges would be the most a team can get during a game.
In exchange, all scoring plays can be reviewed by officials without a challenge flag being thrown if the referee feels it is appropriate, whether it be a touchdown, field goal, or a safety. Pereira immediately called out the problem with this system that I was wondering: if a player scores a touchdown but the referee rules that he didn't, then the coach would have to challenge. Why not just the officials the power to review any plays that appear important enough to change the outcome of the game? I like the fact that more attention will be paid to scoring plays, but it's an unequal system if a "called touchdown that was one inch short" can have a review initiated by an official, but a "non-called touchdown that was one inch in" would require the challenge flag from a coach.
3. Repeat Offenders of Flagrant Hits Will Be Suspended More Often
I don't have a problem with this one, because I think James Harrison deserved it last season. As long as the NFL isn't trigger happy, I'm fine with this.
4. The Defenseless Player Rule Will Be Re-Written/Defined
I am going to quote the committee in full here, because there are a broad number of instances in which the rule would apply if accepted:
"We're also going to standardize the protection for all eight categories of the defenseless player. Those eight categories include:
" the quarterback or the player in the act of or just after throwing a pass;
" the receiver attempting to catch a pass, which includes the receiver who hasn't completed a catch or had time to protect himself;
" number three is a runner who's already in the grasp of a tackler and whose forward progress has been stopped;
" number four is a kickoff or punt returner attempting to field a kick in the air;
" number five is a player on the ground at the end of a play;
" number six is a kicker or punter during the kick or during the return;
" number seven is quarterback at any time after a change of possession;
" and number eight is a player who receives a blindside block. So those are the eight categories of defenseless players. We just want to be sure that we write the rules very clearly and that all eight of those categories have the exact same protection."
Basically, we should have a clearer definition in the rule books as to what defines a "defenseless player," since it applies differently to a wide array of positions.
Pereira notes that he is surprised by the lack of quantity of rule proposals this year; normally there are a lot more on the table. The owners are scheduled to meet March 20-22 at the NFL owners meetings to vote on these rule changes for the 2011-2010 NFL season. I hope the kickoff rule stays the way it is, but it sounds like that the concept of "player safety" will prevail, changing the scope of return games across the league. It would also make it less beneficial for teams to carry kickoff specialists, as their field goal kickers can probably reach the end zone with an extra five yards to boot.