The NFL is Changing … Again


Keith JJ

This new NFL season has brought on a brand new set of rules (Photo courtesy of Pixabay, photo credits to KeithJJ).

For the past 97 years that the National Football League has been in existence, it has seen a fair share of rule changes. The latest batch of changes to the NFL rulebook came from the NFL’s Annual Meeting, where the team owners of the NFL come together to talk about the upcoming season. These rules have made changes to the kickoff, added new penalties, allowed referees to disqualify players, and made changes to the controversial catch rule. These new rules have a common goal to make the game of football safer, smoother, and more enjoyable for fans to watch.

On the surface yes, the safety will be improved, but they are trying to take away some of the exciting parts of the game like kickoff returns and punt returns,” said Director of Sports for WYFF 4 News Brad Fralick.

One way the NFL is trying to improve safety is with the kickoff. The kickoff is an iconic part of football, but it is also a dangerous part of the game. The new rules state that the kicking team is no longer allowed to get a running start, decreasing the speed at which players collide. The kicking team now must also line up five players on either side of the kicker. This has a big impact on onside kicks, because teams normally lined up six on one side and four on the other. This play was legal under the old rules, but is now illegal after the rule changes. The new rules also have restraints for the team that is receiving the football. Eight of the eleven players on the receiving team must stay in a restraining zone. This also decreases collision speed for the returning team. The last change to the kickoff is that if the ball touches down in the endzone, it is an automatic touchback at the 25 yard line, and the receiving team will have no chance to return it and possibly score. Because the kickoff is so dangerous, the NFL considered banning it entirely, but the owners settled on a compromise that makes it safer, but keeps the kickoff in play.

“[The kickoff rules] are all designed to eliminate the returns, those plays are where many of the injuries take place and they are trying to take that out of the game. The other side of that, is that returns are often some of the most exciting plays in a game.  So if they are eliminated, it takes away a big part of the game,” said Fralick.

After seasons of controversy over the catch rule, the NFL has decided on a new rule that will hopefully settle it. The new rule would declare catches like, Dez Bryant’s in the 2014 playoffs and Calvin Johnson’s in the 2010, regular season completions instead of incompletions under the previous rule. In order for a player to make a catch under the new rule, the player must have two feet inbounds, have control of the ball, and perform a football move. A football move is defined as a third step, reaching or diving with the ball, or having the ability to complete these moves. With the new changes, the catch rule may finally be out of the headlines. However, according to Fralick, the rule may not have been what made the catching move so controversial.

“I think replay is what has made that rule difficult, if the calls on the field were made and they had to live with the call, I think there would be less controversy. I think it leaves too much room for argument,” said Fralick.

The league has also added a variety of different penalties this year. A new penalty was added for illegal batting and kicking, which will both be ten yard penalties. Pass interference is now placed at the spot of the foul, again, instead of having it be a fifteen yard penalty. Lowering the head to make contact with the helmet is also a foul. This rule has been very controversial since its entry and a fairly prominent foul since its induction into the books. Players have been fouled left and right, and there is no end in sight for this penalty.

“During the preseason, officials have been very quick with the flags for every little hit that involves the helmet and I think the reaction from players and fans has been pretty negative. I do think that rule will be relaxed a little bit once the regular season begins because of the push back [from fans],” said Fralick.   

The new rules are supposed to help make the game safer and more enjoyable, but they may fall short on keeping the game running smoothly. Many of the rules could lead to more controversy than there already is. This goal of the NFL could be contradictory in itself though, because controversy may be in their best interest.

“But that’s what the NFL loves [controversy]…controversy means people are talking about it and that’s good for business,” said Fralick.

With the new NFL rules, the players need to line up similarly to this graphic. Eight of the players on the receiving team must line up in the restraining zone and the kicking team must only have a one yard run up.