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What do the smart people think?

reinventing the game of football, one idea at a time

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Press Conference Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

ProFootballTalk recently published an article in which they asked 25 “smart” people what they’d do if they could change one thing about the sport of professional football.

I thought I’d list the 25 ideas along with some quick comments about each.

1. Ron Wolf: Cut Down On Flags

Wolf: There are way too many flags flying in today’s game. It takes away from the spectacular aspect of the sport. People love the toughness, the dedication, the overall athletic skill of the performers on the field, and they should be the ones that determine the final outcome of any contest—not the officials.

BiB: Okay.

2. Rick Gosselin: Help Defenses By Extending The Bump Zone

Gosselin: It’s become way too easy of late for offenses to complete passes, gain yards and score points. The NFL has stacked the rules against the defense for years and it’s no longer a fair fight. It’s time to level the playing field. I’d extend the NFL bump rule from five yards to 10. Make the receivers work a little harder for space in their routes and also their catches. The 10-yard cushion would also give NFL defenders a physical counter to all the “rub” routes that have become staples in NFL offenses.

BiB: I’ve never thought about this before reading the suggestion. On the face of it, it sounds good to me, but I could probably be convinced otherwise.

3. Dean Blandino: Make Every Play Replay-Reviewable

Blandino: This would simplify the rule because you wouldn’t have to wonder what’s reviewable and what isn’t. Now that the leaguer has added pass-interference to reviewable calls, we’re going to see the creep begin. Next year, they’ll add something else. By not opening it up to all things being reviewable, all we are doing is delaying the inevitable.

BiB: Honestly, I think that the current use of instant replay is bad for football. I even wrote an article about it once (that wasn’t well-received). I’d like to see less use of replay, not more. Blandino does at least say that there shouldn’t be more challenge flags given to coaches. He also says, “The NFL needs to be competitive and compensate the officials better, and also give them better resources in training”. I agree with that wholeheartedly.

4. Brandon Carr: Take Away Some Protection of the Quarterbacks

Carr: I appreciate the Competition Committee trying to make the game as safe as possible for the players. I love the fact that the last CBA outlawed two-a-day practices in training camp—that’s going to allow me to extend my career. But the rules protecting the quarterbacks are pretty tough for defensive backs.

BiB: I disagree with Carr on both counts. I like the protection for quarterbacks in today’s NFL. I do not think the current CBA limits on off season training are really good for the sport, and I think they hurt the ability of coaches to develop players’ skills and understanding of the game.

5. Scott Hanson: Make the Onside Kick a Real Play Again

Hanson: Let’s morph the onside kick into a fourth-and-15 offensive play. After a field goal or touchdown, the scoring team—if trailing in the fourth quarter—can elect to forgo a kickoff and run a fourth-and-15 offensive play from its own 35 to try and retain possession.

BiB: There probably needs to be a substitute for the onside kick, which was basically lost with last year’s rule changes. After seeing the AAF a few months ago, I’m now okay with just doing away with kickoffs altogether. I didn’t miss them in the Spring league games that I watched. Instead of Hanson’s proposal, I’d like to see more options for the extra point. Something like the current 1 & 2 point options, with another 3 point option that involves, say, running a play from scrimmage from the 15-yard line. Let’s make the entire game more strategic so the loss of a “Hail Mary” style onside kick in the waning seconds of a game isn’t a big deal.

6. Booger McFarland: Make the Onside Kick a Real Play Again II

BiB: Booger McFarland? I thought they said they asked ‘smart’ people. What kind of smart person lets people call him “Booger”?

7. Pete Carroll: Kill Instant Replay

Carroll: I get all the reasons why we have instant replay, and technology has opened up a new world for us to get to this point. But I miss the human element of trusting the officials to make the calls in the moment and then the rest of us having to live with what they called. It was both fun and frustrating, but I really liked the game better when the officials were just as much a part of the game as the players.

BiB: A man after my own heart!!

8. Mark Leibovich: Put Bad Ownership Up For a Public Vote

BiB: I’m gonna paste Leibovich’s entire comment here for your consideration:

Leibovich: If I could change one rule in the NFL—and I realize this would never happen in the real world but what the hell—I would put in a rule that owners need to stand for re-election every five years. Anyone who lived in the jurisdiction where the team plays, or who purchased a ticket to a home game in the last calendar year, would be eligible to vote, either “approve” or “disapprove,” on the owners’ performance. If an owner receives less than 35-percent approval, he or she would be forced to sell the franchise within 90 days, and that new owner would be forbidden from moving the team. As citizens in a democracy, one of the few remedies we have against corruption, incompetence, arrogance, etc. is to vote. As football fans, we have no such right. Instead, we are subjected to the monopolistic whims of unelected oligarchs in our communities. In many cases they are greedy idiots. They wield largely unchecked power over the fortunes of players, fans, local politicians, even their own “commissioner.” Until now.

See you on Election Day, Mr. Snyder.

9. Hunter Henry: Ensure That Each Team Gets a Possession in Overtime

Henry: The league should allow both sides of the ball to have a chance to be successful.

BiB: I realize that I am in the very small minority here, but I HATE the calls for this change to overtime rules. This basically values offense over defense. Teams had 60 minutes to win the game. I think the current rules are absolutely perfect: a touchdown or defensive score wins the game; otherwise, the second possession is sudden death. This is elegant and values offense and defense equally.

10. Lindsay Jones: Be More Progressive About Players Using Marijuana

Jones: It’s beyond time for the NFL to completely overhaul its drug policy, especially with the way it punishes players for using marijuana, so that’s where I would start.

BiB: Yes.

11. Chris Nowinski: Eliminate Tackle Football Until High School

Nowinski: Football is in a precarious position. The more successful a player is, and the longer he plays, the more likely he is to develop CTE. It’s called a dose-response relationship: The more years of tackle football you play (the dose), the higher your risk of CTE (the response). The NFL can reduce CTE risk for players by lowering the dose, but changing the NFL game further wouldn’t be expected to make a big difference. The biggest gains would be made by changing the way children play the game.

BiB: I played tackle football when I was a kid, so my first inclination is to resist this idea. That said, the science shouldn’t be ignored. Solutions need to be found somewhere.

12. Richard Deitsch: Give Fans a Beckham Cam

Deitsch: I’d love to see a second-screen option for NFL games. Each team designates one practice-squad player (or someone not playing that day) to sit on the bench during the game and offer real-time commentary regarding what viewers are seeing. It would be an incredible education into the game (along with great reps for those who want a post-playing career in broadcasting), the first of its kind in major sports.

BiB: I think the technology offers opportunities to bring the game to fans in ways never before possible, and the rise of reality TV in general, and creative programming in the NFL in particular has set the stage for more creative TV. I absolutely LOVE this suggestion! I think the NFL owners as a whole are too conservative. This is a good example of how to use technology in a more interactive way to bring fans into the game, but I hate the “Backham Cam” name.

13. Sam Farmer: Adios, Chain Gangs

Farmer: Do away with chain gangs. Use a laser to mark off 10 yards. I know there are far more important issues—concussions and off-the-field behavior among them—but this imprecise, anachronistic system of measuring first downs is silly.

BiB: Yeah... okay. Next.

14. Eric Winston: Seed the Playoffs By Record, Not Division Title

Winston: The best should get the spoils at the end of the day. And a 12-4 team being seeded below teams that might be 9-7 or whatever … it’s just not right. It’s a matter of fairness, which is what the NFL should be about. We have a landscape where it’s not fair right now, and it should be fixed.

BiB: No. Wrong. Of all the ideas I read in this article, this is probably the worst. Part of what makes the NFL great is the division rivalries, and winning the division is important — not just for bragging rights, but for playoff seedings. If Eric Winston had been part of the Continental Congress, the United States would have a unicameral house of Parliament instead of the more elegant bicameral structure of the Senate and House of Representatives that we enjoy today. Delete this idea from your mind.

15. Amy Trask: Increase Roster Size

Trask: I would increase roster size by a significant number. League economics support an increase and concerns about player health and safety should dictate it.

BiB: Motion approved. Overdue. Make it happen.

16. Calais Campbell: Make Every Healthy Player Active on Game Day

Campbell: If teams can dress and play all 53 guys on Sundays, it would help decrease injuries incurred during competition because it would allow more rest and substitutions.

BiB: The idea of the current rules on game day active players is to have a level playing field for all teams (everyone gets 46 active players). I remember the old days with IR manipulation by teams well enough to appreciate why the current structure is preferable. That said, I agree with Campbell on his reasons for wanting the change — I just like Amy Trask’s solution (#15 above) better. I’d suggest expanding rosters to either 60 players or an unlimited roster size (constrained by the existing salary cap structure), with 53 to 55 players active on game day.

17. Sal Paolantonio: Send Replay Review Into Our Living Rooms

Paolantonio: I think the NFL should televise the instant replay review. That’s right: Make it part of the network broadcast. The payoff would be immediate and lucrative. One, it would turn an annoying stoppage of play into must-see TV. The audience would see and hear the on-field referee, the instant replay ref in the booth and league officiating guru Al Riveron in New York, dissecting the play. Ratings go up. Two, sponsor this segment. Cha-ching!

BiB: When I first saw the header for this recommendation, I thought he wanted to let viewers vote on instant replay calls — an idea against which I immediately recoiled.

Intuitively, I really like what he has actually recommended here, and I think it would be both great TV and a step in the right direction of the ‘reality’ TV that the NFL seems to be embracing. That said, I saw this idea in action on the first AAF broadcast I watched, and the experience actually left me a bit ‘flat’. It was much less compelling than I would have expected. To make this idea work, it needs a huge improvement in production quality from what I saw with the AAF, but I think the idea has merit.

18. Les Snead: Reinvent the Preseason

Snead: My long-term thought is to reduce the preseason from four to two games, one home and one away. But don’t waste the rest of August. I would add a scrimmage with another team at a neutral site that loves football—and slot that scrimmage the same week that now would be used for the first full preseason weekend, the week after the Hall of Fame Game. We could take the NFL on the road to towns in America that support the NFL on Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays by watching us. Play those scrimmages in great high school stadiums, college stadiums or minor-league baseball stadiums.

BiB: I agree that the pre-season is broken and needs a solution. Whether Snead has the right concept or not, I’m less sure about. The Pro Bowl is broken too, and either needs to be fixed or eliminated.

19. Rich Eisen: Give the Ball Back to the Offense on Fumbles Through the End Zone

Eisen: If I could wave a wand for NFL change, I’d get rid of the antiquated rule that makes a fumble into and through the end zone a touchback and a change of possession. I know the end zone is hallowed ground, but why should a ball fumbled out of bounds at the one-inch line remain with the offense while a fumble that occurs two inches further down the field, one inch into and through the end zone, goes to the defense? Under the current rule, the defense that likely performed poorly on the drive gets bailed out by a lucky bounce of the ball. I say: Any fumble into and through the endzone should be a reverse touchback. The ball goes to the offense on the 20-yard line.

BiB: I normally am kind of like a strict constructionist on the Supreme Court, seeking consistency and adherence to written rules and precedent. That said, I’m with Eisen on this one. Put a new rule in the book to change this current travesty.

20. Terez Paylor: The NFL Must Loosen Its Vise-Grip on Highlights

Paylor: the NBA promotes its players and teams by letting news outlets break down X’s and O’s using league footage—unlike the NFL, which aggressively targets organizations that are not rights holders. You can’t even embed the NFL’s videos from its YouTube channel on web sites because the league won’t get a direct click. Allowing more news groups to use the footage to create smarter fans will only improve fans’ understanding of what teams are doing on the field, and help keep the focus on how amazing these athletes are and how special the game of professional football really is.

BiB: I understand the NFL’s concerns with copyright and content ownership, but I’ve long been puzzled by their attitude towards limiting the use of film for people who are doing everything possible to promote the NFL game. The league just seem to be far away from any kind of reasonable point of balance between protecting their legal rights and promoting the fan experience.

21. Neil Hornsby: Shorten the Game

Hornsby: I would propose that the clock run on incomplete passes till the last four minutes of each half. Then the clock would stop on incompletions. I love the NFL, obviously, but the games are too long, and there are many dead periods in games. There is no reason a football game cannot be played in two hours and 35 minutes, or 2:40. One of the things I loved about watching the Alliance of American Football games this year was the speed of the game. It just makes the game more enjoyable when you’re not sitting around, sitting around, sitting around waiting for the next play.

BiB: I like the objective, but not the proposed solution. I’d like to see shorter games, but I get twitchy when people want to fuck with the rules — especially when it’s to ‘speed up the game’ rather than fix some injustice that hurts the players, or the game itself. I’d vote ‘no’ here.

22. Harry Carson: Bring Pre-1993 Retirees’ Pensions In Line With Other Sports …

Carson: As a 13-year veteran of the game and now a retiree myself, I understand first-hand the price many players paid to help build the National Football League into what it is today. The price paid for almost all were physical injuries (knees, hips, etc.) while many others suffered neurological impairment. The NFL should respond to the voices of older (pre-1993) former players and their spouses by bringing pensions and benefits in line with professional basketball and baseball.

BiB: This is a ‘political’ response that won’t resonate much with most fans, but I’ve read a fair bit about this in the past six months and I agree with Carson. This is a proposal that would positively impact about 4,000 former players and their families — a number that gets smaller every year as older players die. The NFL can afford it; it’s not my money. I’d like to see the NFLPA go to bat for this.

23. Joe Horrigan: … And Do The Same For Pre-1993 Player Benefits

Horrigan: While the financial rewards for today’s players are more reflective of the game’s success than ever, it’s important to remember that the average pro football career is relatively short, yet long-term post-career physical ailments might last a lifetime. The NFL should be applauded for its continuing efforts to address and improve health, safety and quality of life issues for its players. But, if I could do one thing to improve the game off the field it would be to provide former players, particularly those from the pre-1993 era, the same post-career health benefits as their present-day brethren. I realize this is no simple matter and will require the investment and cooperation of both the league and the players association, but I can think of no better initiative to begin the next century of the NFL.

Horgan: (slow golf clap)

24. Bart Scott: Liberalize Rules to Bring Back the Excitement of the Kickoff

Scott: Bring back the old kickoff rules. In fact, move the kickoff back to the 20-yard-line to encourage kick returns. It’s the most exciting play in the game. Guys like Devin Hester, Mel Gray, Brian Mitchell and Dante Hall were so fun to watch. Teams would put more skilled players on special teams.

BiB: A year ago I might have supported this idea. Watching the AAF transformed my opinion and I’ve swung 180 degrees on this. I’m now in the “eliminate kickoffs” camp. It would also help with #21 above (shortening the game). Yes, I know how hypocritical I am for opposing a change to how the clock runs at the same time that I favor the elimination of kickoffs and touchbacks for fumbles through the end zone, but, what can I say? I am an imperfect creature. God’s not done with me yet.

25: Mike Florio: Adopt the XFL’s OT Rule

Florio: The XFL, inspired by soccer and hockey using penalty kicks and shots to break ties, will try a two-point conversion shootout, with both offenses and both defenses on the field at the same time, alternating attempts to score from either end of the field. It’s a simple solution that will resonate with younger fans, reduce (ideally) the number of snaps taken to resolve a game, and most importantly change overtime into something that is truly equitable.

BiB: My natural inclination is to disagree with Florio just on general principle, but in this case I genuinely think this proposal is absolutely horrendous!! If #14 was the worst idea, this one is running neck-and-neck at the wire and finishing second. As I mentioned in #9 above, I don’t believe the league has any problem with overtime rules (and, yes, I realize I am in a tiny minority there). I think they are perfect the way they are.

What puzzles me most is how Mike Florio got included in an article that says they asked a question to “smart people”. Oh yeah... Peter King, who put together the article, works for NBC Sports, same as Florio. Office politics.