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Improving the NFL

Blackouts, improved officiating, in-stadium experience and building a better off field player. Jack Bechta

Print This December 04, 2013, 05:30 AM EST

Working in the trenches of the NFL I get to hear the complaints of front office people, players and coaches that won’t be voiced publicly. In addition, I attend and watch a lot of games just like the average fan. Here are four ways we make the NFL more enjoyable for all. 

1) Having two officials, preferably former players and coaches, in the booth upstairs. Many inside and outside of the league are complaining about the number of bad calls made by officials. Unfortunately, several of these calls have affected the outcome of the game. In fairness to the official, maybe they always had the same percentage of bad calls. However, with the great job the networks are doing covering games with slow motion, high definition and multiple angles, we the fans are seeing more details of the game on the jumbotron and in our living rooms. Pass interference calls/non-calls, late hits on the QB, catches/non-catches, premature whistle blowing and holding calls seem to be the biggest problems. Furthermore, when the zebras have to go under the hood for a call it can be a momentum killer for a team.

So why not give the refs the same advantage we have with immediate access to replays. What if two additional zebras (preferably former players and coaches trained as refs) sat in the booth connected to officials on the field. They would have immediate access to the networks camera angles. Having this component in place can even eliminate the coaches’ challenge decision. Having another set of trained eyes can help make the game run smoother, faster and can help the officiating dramatically. After all, what is more important than the integrity of the game?

2) Require unvested players participate in a 3-year mandatory life skills course. Currently, the NFL tries to jam life skills training for rookies into a one-week window at the rookie symposium. Undrafted players are not invited. Additionally, teams hire a player development individual, usually a former player, to help guide players on and off the field. The system doesn’t work!

So what if we made it mandatory for young players to receive an in-house ongoing life skills training program. They'd have to attend meetings just like any other football related meetings. If you miss it, you get fined. Young players need consistent tutoring/counseling/guidance on handling their own finances, their personal relationships, dealing with the media and overall social behavior.

Being a pro athlete can actually promote adolescent behavior. The responsibilities thrown at them are daunting which most can’t handle. The NFL has a “program” for drug users but none for life skills training. The NFLPA and NFL should come together and design a comprehensive mandatory program that will educate and support young players. With an ongoing educational mechanism in place, players can keep busy developing maturity, personal management skills, second career planning and solid social decision making skills. We would see an immediate drop off in suspensions, DUI’s, arrests, and bankruptcies. As of now, young players mirror the actions of older players. So far, that model is not working.

3) What if we penalized obnoxious season ticket holders? The fan experience has become really deteriorating in many NFL venues. San Diego and San Francisco for example can be dangerous battlegrounds for opposing fans. I had season tickets to the Chargers for many years but gave them up because of unruly fan behavior in my section. Many stadiums around the league are no place for kids and families. Drunken F-bomb throwing fans need to go. Stadium managers need to implement a better system in identifying unruly fans and cut them off. It should be a privilege to have a season ticket, not a right to abuse others. One fan can make the experience horrendous for all.

4) Eliminate the blackout rule: The blackout rule was put in place at a time when there were only two games a Sunday you could watch in your local market. However, for today's all access NFL, it’s archaic. Last week the Bengals played the Chargers (two potential playoff teams), the game was blacked out. Only 5500 tickets needed to be sold to lift the blackout. It didn’t happen. When it's 70 degrees and sunny in San Diego, fans don’t say, “Oh my God, we should really go to this game because I can’t see it on TV”. No, they go to a sports bar instead to watch their fantasy players perform. Or they sit at home and watch the NFL Red Zone and just see the best parts of the game without the cost and hassle of going to the stadium.

The blackout rule actually hurts a team trying to engage a fan base. Struggling teams get blacked out. So if the game isn’t on TV, how do you keep the fans interested and engage new young potential fans? You don’t. Every chance a kid can have to watch a game with his mom or dad is an opportunity to grow a fan base. Get rid of this rule, clean up the fan experience in the stadium, make it more affordable and engage the fan each week. Do so, and stadiums will eventually be full.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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