In the past few days, NFL officials have outlined some of the new rules that will be implemented for the 2014 season. A few very minor changes have taken place, a couple of important changes are being made, and one rule modification is putting far too much responsibility in the hands of individual referees.
The minor changes have to do with the goal posts of the uprights, which are being extended five feet. Additionally, the clock will now keep running after sacks. Officials argue that this will speed up the game. Such a claim is debatable, but not a huge issue. Another minor change is that offensive linemen will earn their team a five-yard penalty for certain head movements if the referee considers them attempts to draw the defense offside. The clipping rule has also been modified, and now if a blocker rolls up the side of a defender’s leg, his team will be dealt a 15-yard penalty.
These are minor changes and will obviously have some impact, but not a drastic affect on the game.
Much more important rule changes include a modification to when a play is reviewable and how it is reviewed. Any loose ball in the field of play will now be reviewable. This is in response to the questionable call in the NFC Championship game last season. The “Navorro Bowman Rule” will make any fumble reviewable, and this is a great call on the part of the league as a fumble recovery can be a fundamental turning point in a game.
Further building upon the rules and protocol for reviewing plays, referees reviewing plays will now have the option of consulting with the NFL Officiating Department while at the replay booth. These two rule changes are both necessary. While having increased input from higher-up officials may slow the game, such a move will ensure that human error is taken as far out of the equation as possible.
Reviewing all loose ball plays is another solid change for exactly the same reason, though on-field officials and higher-ranking ones will be wise to ensure that the review process is always timely.
Along with the changes to reviewing procedures on the field, hands to the face will be cracked down upon this year, as will jersey-pulling. As it stands right now, it seems that any jersey pull will be met with a “defensive holding” call and a five-yard penalty. Similarly, hands to the face will be much more heavily penalized this year, with any forceful use of a hand to the face area of an opponent being met with a five-yard penalty plus a first down if called on defense, or a 10-yard penalty for an offensive player.
These rules are obviously aimed at making the game more fair for the players and further limiting what can be done to illegally hinder one another during play, but such sweeping orders will inevitably lead to increased penalties unless individual refs use their own discretion.
One rule modification that I am hesitant to get behind is a modification to the unsportsmanlike conduct rule. Use of NFL equipment for celebrations has been eliminated after the goal post incident last year, which eliminates dunking through the uprights. It is sad to see that classic go, but if Roger Goodell and his lackeys can make the game less entertaining and viewer-friendly, he will.
The other addition to “unsportsmanlike conduct” has to do with foul language. Essentially, any derogatory or abusive language between players or players and officials will be answered with a flag. Obviously, abusive language against refs is out, but who draws the line for abusive smack-talking between players? Unfortunately, there is no definition or list of such language available so again, the ref’s job has been made more vague and difficult.
Obviously homophobia and racism have no place in civilized society or on the field, but hopefully players won’t be penalized for banter. While it may be unsportsmanlike, it exists across all levels of all contact sports and happens on every play. If it is cracked down on too much, it will slow down the game.