NFL Owners’ Meetings: Rule Changes and Controversy
Last week owners, coaches, and general managers from the NFL met in Orlando to discuss ways to make the game safer, healthier, and stronger (including financially). As is commonplace, the groups agreed upon a few main changes, while outside comments were also discussed among the media regarding the league. Let’s review these topics – in addition to adding my condolences for the late Ralph Wilson, who I have yet to hear a negative word about.
The penalization of slam-dunks over goal posts following touchdowns
My initial thought surrounding this was, here we go again – it’s the No Fun League. But after some consideration, I tend to agree with this rule alteration. Outlawing the use of the ground as a prop and group celebrations were outrageous but are different circumstances, as they do not affect the playing field. Slam-dunking footballs has altered field goal posts, forcing NFL employees to stop the contest and level the uprights. In such an efficiently timed sport (unlike the NBA, MLB, or college football), this could greatly throw a curve in the great programming on Sundays. There are many ways to celebrate a touchdown (and they have been on display) and these have evolved over time. This rule is just expediting the evolution – some hate celebrations altogether, so this will placate those fans.
Extending the height of field goal posts by five feet
Provided the league is able to afford new goal posts league-wide (which I think they will), this rule change makes sense as well. Professional kickers can drive footballs much further and higher than their college counterparts, and scenarios are therefore created when the ball goes above the field goal post – leading to the referees making a difficult, snap decision that is not reviewable (as of this point). The game began with straight on kickers (a la Jim O’Brien, Lou Groza, and Pat Summerall to name a few) who did not boot the ball as far as guys twenty years their junior. The same can be said about the Matt Bahrs, Pete Stoyanoviches, and Morten Andersons of the world and present-day kickers. Extending the uprights reduces the opportunity of controversial calls like Don Chandler’s for the Packers in 1965 and Rich Karlis’s one against the Browns in 1987.
Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban says NFL can become oversaturated, leading to its downfall
I understand where the billionaire is coming from, to a point. The most popular sport in America has continued to find ways to market its brand and expand as much as possible. I believe part of the charm of the league is the difficulty to gain access, especially for out-of-market fans. This is where sports bars and satellite dish programming come into play; further generating revenue for the league. The NFL is making money here, hand over fist, but at some point there will be the law of diminishing returns.
There are two things the league can do to weaken its product; competing on other days (outside of the three they already own) and spreading to markets that do not support professional football they way the top cities do. Having contests on Tuesdays and Wednesday (for example), may sound like an enticing option initially but that would likely change. Players will hate the short rest, the NFL schedule will have to drastically modify (perhaps by adding a second bye week), and fans (the casual ones, at least) may finally not prioritize watching football. Once that point occurs, the league will have to make reactive adjustments. Moving teams to places like Jacksonville and St. Louis seemed like good ideas, but those cities have not been supporting their teams they way a Green Bay or New York does (whether it’s by ticket revenue, merchandise, etc.). Taking a team to L.A. or London could be exciting for the league short-term but an empty stadium and low revenue might transform that rather quickly.
Conclusion: The NFL owners’ meeting is usually filled with solid ideas to improve the sport. However, the league must make sure they are not making changes just to make changes. While Mark Cuban is not correct in his opinion currently; that assessment could easily alter down the road.
I have not forgotten that Ralph Wilson was one of two owners who voted against the move of the Browns to Baltimore (Dan Rooney was the other). That alone should garner respect from Browns fans, but his founding of the Bills and never threatening to move his franchise is beyond commendable – he will be missed.