How Will The New NFL Rule Changes Affect The Game?
Wednesday morning, the NFL Competition Committee announced their rule changes for the 2016-17 season. There were some interesting ones, all of which can be read here:
These proposals have been adopted just now by the clubs -- chop blocks are illegal, PATs permanently are at the 15 pic.twitter.com/LIEHOjif23— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 22, 2016
But, how will these rules impact the game this season?
The first rule change is not a change per se, but rather making permanent the rule change implemented last year that moved extra point attempts back to the 15-yard line. This change had a significant impact last year, with record numbers of missed extra point attempts, including a few crucial misses in the playoffs. Expect this rule to continue to impact the game the way it did last season.
It's obvious that player safety was a point of major emphasis in this new set of rules. Touchbacks on kickoffs and punts will now result in teams getting the ball at the 25-yard line. This could be a double-edged sword, as many teams will opt to take more touchbacks if they are available, but many kicking teams will attempt to avoid the touchback more so than ever before. This potential problem for this rule could have an ultimately negative impact, as a rule designed to increase the number of touchbacks (which would decrease the number of potentially dangerous kickoff returns) could ultimately increase the returns they are trying to limit.
In a rare player safety rule directed towards protecting defensive players, chop blocks are now illegal in the NFL. While chop blocks don't lead to injury epidemics the way hits to the head do, they can create many potential lower-body injuries for defensive players, and eliminating these dangerous blocks will hopefully limit those injuries. Along those lines, horse-collar tackle penalties have now been expanded to include tackles where the defender grabs the jersey at the name plate. These common sense rules indicate the NFL is thinking smartly about subtle ways to improve player safety, even if they lack the big picture safety initiative.
The most controversial rule, however, is the rule that automatically ejects players after two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. This rule was instituted by the competition committee for only the 2016-17 season, and if it proves to have a positive impact on the game, they can vote to keep it next season. While I think it is likely this rule will be kept, I do not think this will have the intended impact.
This is not a rule about player safety as Roger Goodell proposed it at the Super Bowl, but rather a rule about sportsmanship. This automatic ejection rule, by virtue of being for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and not for unnecessary roughness penalties, does not necessarily protect the players themselves.
Instead, this rule is intended to protect the image of the league. By trying to limit taunting penalties and other unsportsmanlike penalties, the league is trying to protect its image. If the league really wants to protect players, then it should reconsider the committee's proposal to eject players after two personal fouls.
The league gets a lot out of this rule, however, because it gets people thinking that the NFL is in it for the player safety, without realizing that unsportsmanlike conduct penalties are not personal fouls. A hit to the head of a defenseless receiver, roughing the passer, facemask, horse-collar tackles, and many of the other penalties that truly affect player safety will not be impacted by this ejection rule. Under this rule, only one player would have been ejected last season (Brian Orakpo was given two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for arguing with a referee). Odell Beckham Jr. and Josh Norman would not have been ejected even in their melee under this rule. Vontaze Burfict and Adam "Pacman" Jones would not have been ejected under this rule for their conduct at the end of the Steelers-Bengals playoff matchup last season. So this rule, despite appearances, has no actual positive impact on the game.
By imposing rules like this, the league forgets that fans come to the game for the entertainment value, and not necessarily for impeccable sportsmanship. Roger Goodell and the conference committee may dislike excessive celebrations or arguing with referees, but fans absolutely love that kind of stuff. I mean, who doesn't love seeing a technically excessive celebration?
So, in conclusion, most of the new rules make sense for both the league and the players. The new rules designed to help improve player safety are a step in the right direction, and should definitely help players avoid injury. However, don't be fooled by this new automatic ejection rule. This is just another in a long line of rules designed to limit the excitement on the field between plays. So, will the ejection rule have an effect on the field? No, but it might negatively impact the fans.