The password is player safety.
Actually, that’s two words, but that’s the catchphrase of the 2011 season’s rule changes that the NFL’s Competition Committee will put up for vote at next week’s owners meetings in New Orleans.
We won’t go into detail on the proposals brought out by Rich McKay, the Competition Committee chairman, and Ray Anderson, the league’s executive vice president of football operations, but two of the three are clearly intended to reduce injuries.
The first proposal is a rewriting of the “defenseless player” rule to the point that it will now be broken out in the NFL rulebook under its own article under Unnecessary Roughness. Part of the rewriting is the standardization of the protection for all eight categories of defenseless players. McKay added that within the rule will be a new category that will prohibit illegal launching — leaving one’s feet, springing forward and upward, and delivering a blow with any part of the helmet or facemask.
And No. 2 is the proposed modification of the kickoff, including moving the kick from the 30 back up to the 35 (what’s old is new again), and requiring all members of the kick-coverage team (other than the kicker) to line up within 5 yards of the kickoff line rather than the sometimes 15-yard head start that some players had been getting.
The impetus for this rule, said McKay, is that “the injury rate on the kickoff remains a real concern for us and for the players and the Coaches Subcommittee,” involving “both concussions and major injuries.”
To counterbalance the prospect of watching the Ravens’ Billy Cundiff, the Raiders’ Sebastian Janikowski and others bombing touchback after touchback into the end zone stands, the new proposal includes placing the ball after TB at the 25, not the 20. The average drive start after all kickoffs last year was the 26.8-yard line.
And while McKay said while the touchback rate “will go up,” returns won’t disappear because on the average kickoff return last year the ball was first caught at the 5.5-yard line. “Do I think there will be the potential for fewer returns? Yes,” he said. “Do we think it is a huge magnitude change? No.”
Obviously many are not fans of the “kinder, gentler” NFL. (Indeed, McKay said there were a few suggestion from the Competition Committee’s meetings with players and coaches to do away with the kickoff altogether.) Many others, a group that includes fans, players and owners, realize that major injuries are becoming an increasing concern in the game. And many feel strongly both ways. Send me your comments on which side of the fence you sit on regarding these rule changes.
Meanwhile, here are a few of the lesser-reported elements from the conference call that Anderson, McKay and Greg Aiello, the NFL’s senior vice president of public relations, had with reporters yesterday:
Upon Further Review
The third rule proposal will be modifying instant replay in two ways. One is for all scoring plays to be confirmed by the replay official, as they currently are in the last two minutes of both halves and overtime, so therefore coaches would not have to burn replay challenges on any scoring play. In conjunction with that rule is the proposed elimination of the third challenge in a game that each coach gets after two successful challenges.
Reseeding Still on Back Burner
The concept of reseeding playoff teams if a division champion is set to host a wild-card team with a better record was a hot topic a few years ago, not so much this year, McKay said.
“It was something we talked about, it was something we put in the survey,” he said. “It is something that we feel like membership did not have an appetite for right now. It is a topic that I am sure we will continue to discuss downstream, but not something there will be any proposal about this year.”
Interesting that there were three wild-card games in January hat would have been affected by reseeding, more than in any other year in NFL playoff history. The Jets were one of those teams — they took their 11-5 record to Lucas Oil to play the 10-6 Colts. The 17-16 victory worked out OK for the Green & White, but just maybe if that game had been at New Meadowlands, that would have lessened just enough postseason pressure to help the Jets when they needed it most, in the first half at Pittsburgh two weeks later …
That’s idle speculation, of course. A major key, as Rex Ryan has always said, is winning as many games as you can, grabbing that division title, and getting a home playoff game or two.
Those Revised OT Rules
The new overtime rules that were ready to be implemented for last year’s playoffs didn’t have to be used. But since 1998 the NFL has averaged more than one OT game per postseason so it’s a good bet the rules will be invoked in the ’11 playoffs.
But McKay said he anticipates no discussion of extending those rules into the regular season, so it will still be sudden death for the first 17 weeks of the schedule.
“Our feeling here is that we wanted to do kind of what we have done, which is put it into the postseason where the consequences are a little more severe and then see it operate a little bit, which we did not this year,” he said.”I don’t think there is any rush. There are some members of the committee that wanted to talk about proposing it this year, but I think our overall feeling was let’s wait a year or two before we propose the change, and let’s see where that leads us. Let’s see some games played under that new rule.”
Nothing’s etched in stone regarding the release of the upcoming season’s preseason and regular-season schedules, but Aiello said of the RS sked, “the plan is to release it as we normally do in mid-April” and that his assumption on the PS schedule is that that also would be released as usual. Last year the league announced its preseason schedule on March 31 and the regular-season schedule was unveiled on NFL Network on April 20.
Tags: Competition Committee, owners meetings, Ray Anderson, Rex Ryan, Rich McKay
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