National Football League
New replay rules could lengthen games
National Football League

New replay rules could lengthen games

Published Jul. 17, 2011 1:00 a.m. ET

There are a couple of thousand players waiting for the NFL and NFLPA to reach a settlement that would allow them to start preparing for training camps and preseason games. Their future is uncertain.

There are 121 NFL officials whose future is also uncertain, but they are prepared and ready to go. On Sunday, all 121 completed a three-day clinic in Dallas, where — among other things — they were weighed, had their body fat and waist circumference measured and their body mass calculated. They have been assigned training camps to attend and have gotten their preseason game assignments.

Friday’s initial segment of the clinic apprised the officials of the rule changes. The changes with the greatest impact involve instant replay and player safety. The lack of a change involves Calvin Johnson.

The change in replay involves scoring plays. If an official rules a score (touchdown, field goal, safety or extra point) during a game, the replay official will automatically review the play. If there is any question as to whether the ruling is correct, they will buzz down to the referee and ask him to come to the monitor to review the play. If the replay official confirms the ruling is correct, they will buzz the referee indicating he is clear to let the scoring team attempt the extra point, or kick off if the scoring play was a field goal, safety or extra-point attempt. A coach will not be allowed to challenge the ruling of a score. The intent is to save the coach from having to challenge the ruling of a score and, thus, increase his chances of not running out of challenges or timeouts.


Sounds good, but there will be an unintended consequence. There will be a lot more replay stoppages in 2011, and the length of games will increase. Neither of those is good for the game.

Scoring plays are the most important plays in the game. Replay assistants were told that if they couldn’t confirm the score, they should stop the game. Replay assistants will wait for the television networks to show confirming replays and, if they're not shown, then will ask for a review. If there is any question, the replay assistants will rightly stop the game to protect themselves from allowing a score that a team might not be entitled to. They will stop plays that a coach would not challenge because he risks the loss of a challenge and a timeout if he is wrong. The replay official risks nothing. The replay official’s job just got a lot tougher, and the networks will be under more pressure to show replays in a timely manner. That won’t make anyone happy.

How many more stoppages and how much more game time will be added? Hard to say, but some have suggested they wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be one per game — and there are 256 regular-season games. There were 361 replay stoppages last season. One extra stoppage per game would add three minutes to the length of the game. The preseason will give everyone an indication of the impact.

* * *

The player safety changes are excellent. The changes standardize which players are defenseless and also the contact that is deemed illegal.

The eight defenseless players are:

* A player in the act of or just after throwing a pass.

* A receiver catching or attempting to catch a pass or who has completed a catch but has not had time to protect himself.

* A runner already in the grasp of a tackler whose forward progress has been stopped.

* A kickoff or punt returner attempting to field a kick in the air.

* A player on the ground at the end of the play.

* A kicker/punter during the kick or return.

* A quarterback at any time after a change of possession.

* A player who is being blindside blocked.

All of these players will be protected from hits to the head or neck area when the initial contact by the defender is with the helmet (including face mask), forearm or shoulder. A defender may not lower his head and contact any one of the eight defenseless players on any part of his body with the “hairline” or forehead part of the helmet. Bottom line: Don’t lead with your helmet. Period. That protects the player being hit and the one doing the hitting.

The NFL won’t back off on player safety. All you have to do is be down on the field once to see how fierce these collisions are. Anything to protect the head and neck is a good thing.

* * *

The officials also were given a 25-question rules test in which they were asked for rulings. Here is an example taken from Test D, question No. 7 (where A and B refer to the two teams):

Third-and-16 on A34. QBA (offense)1 hands off to Back A2 at the A31, and A2 runs to the B44 where he is tackled inbounds by B(defense)3. A2 then gets up and spikes the ball. Immediately after the snap, Nose Guard B5 pulls Center A5 down by the face mask. The ruling?

If you said it was a 5-yard/15-yard penalty enforcement, you would be partially right. Team A’s foul is a simple delay-of-game foul, a 5-yard penalty, and B’s foul is a major 15-yard penalty. By rule, the delay-of-game foul is disregarded and the major face mask is enforced from the spot of the snap. That would give Team A a first down on the A49.

But (and there always seems to be a but), because A’s foul was a delay of game for spiking the ball after the play, an exception to the rule allows Team A to decline the face-mask penalty to accept the 5-yard penalty from the end of their run. That penalty leaves the ball at the B49, 2 yards in advance of the 5/15 enforcement.

You wonder why crews huddle when there are multiple fouls?

* * *

Last but not necessarily least, a note to Calvin Johnson: The pass is still incomplete. There were no substantial changes to the catch rule. There are three elements to a catch when going to the ground. First, you must get total control. Second, you must get both feet or another body part down. Third, and the trickiest, you must maintain control throughout the entire process of going to and hitting the ground. The ground can cause an incompletion in the field of play or end zone. The competition committee affirmed that the pass to Johnson was incomplete as the ball came out of his control when it hit the ground. He completed the first two elements of the catch but not the third.

One-hundred-and-twenty-one guys are ready to rock 'n' roll. Isn’t it more fun talking about this instead of lockouts and guaranteed rookie contracts?


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