Next in my “If I were Emperor” series is pro football.
The NFL has been the king of the sports hill for about 20 years now. They seem to have everything they need – a hungry fan base, a good product, and not enough of the product. But not everything is all strawberries and cream. Here are my ideas for making the game better.
1. Simplify the rule book. No one knows what constitutes a catch anymore. Shouldn’t be that way. He has the ball in both his hands and 2 feet in bounds, it’s a catch. I don’t give a rip what happens after he falls down out of bounds. Ball in hands, 2 feet down, catch. End of story. Come up with a concrete definition of pass interference. If the QB rolls left and throws a 30-yard pass to the back-left corner of the end zone, don’t throw a holding flag on a receiver on the far right side of the field that is 50 yards away from the play.
2. Expand the rosters. Currently, each team has a roster of 53 players and 10 practice squad players. Of the 53, only 46 can suit up on game day; the other 7 must be declared inactive. Any team can sign a player on anyone’s practice squad without penalty. There are only 2 levels of injured reserve – season-ending, and “designated to return.” That DTR can only be used on one player, per team, per year, and the player must remain out for at least 8 weeks. I propose the roster be expanded to 60, with no one designated as inactive, and a team can only sign players on its own practice squad. There would be 3 levels of injured reserve – 3 weeks, 8 weeks and season-ending. Just like the disabled list in baseball, no one on any of the injured reserve lists counts as a player on your active 60-man roster.
3. Expand the season. I propose the season be moved to 18 games. The current 16-game schedule sees each team play its division opponents twice, every team from 1 division from the opposite conference, rotating divisions each year, and every team from 1 division within its conference, rotating divisions each year. That is 14 games. The 2 remaining games are played against teams from the other 2 divisions within the conference the team did not play. Each team plays these 2 games against the teams that placed equal to them in the previous season. Let’s use the 2017 Panthers as an example. They play their 6 games against the 3 other NFC South teams. They will play all the teams in the AFC East and NFC North, as those divisions are next up in the rotations. The2 remaining games will be against the teams in the NFC West and NFC East who finished in the same place in their division as the Panthers. Unfortunately for us, that place was 4th – in other words, last. So the Panthers will play an away game with the last-place NFC West team, the San Francisco 49ers, and a home game with the last-place NFC East team, the Philadelphia Eagles. In contrast, the Atlanta Falcons’ reward for winning the NFC South is that they get to play a home game against the Cowboys and a road game against the Seattle Seahawks. This is supposed to encourage parity by giving the last-place team an easier schedule than the first-place team. It doesn’t always work out that way, because teams can go from good to bad and vice versa very quickly. The Panthers went from 15-1 and in the Super Bowl in 2015 to 6-10 and the 8th pick in the draft in 2016, and were one of SIX of the 12 playoff teams in 2015 to not make the playoffs in 2016. By expanding the schedule to 18 games, instead of these 2 record-based opponents, a division could play all teams in 2 divisions in its conference every year instead of 1, leaving all teams in a division with the same opponents. The Panthers could, for example, play the NFC North and NFC West in 2017, then the NFC North and NFC East in 2018, the NFC East and NFC West in 2019, and so on.
4. Change the off week scheduling. I would start the season Labor Day weekend (1 week earlier than today), and everyone would play through the first week of November. The second week in November, the only game would be the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. The 3rd weekend in November (the weekend before Thanksgiving), no NFL games. College football would then move their rivalry games back to that weekend where they used to be (now they are all on Thanksgiving weekend). Then on Thanksgiving, the NFL plays again and goes each week through the 2nd week of January. Then the playoffs, and the Super Bowl on the 2nd week of February. (Please note the elimination of the off week between the conference championships and the Super Bowl. Even the players hate it, so get rid of it.) And ABSOLUTELY NO THURSDAY GAMES other than the 3 on Thanksgiving. College football essentially gets 2 weekends all to themselves for big rivalry games, every player gets 2 weeks in the middle of the season to heal from bumps, bruises and minor injuries. The workload per game is less thanks to the changes in the roster.
5. Better start times. While we’re talking about scheduling, let’s get the TV execs in a room and explain life in the 21st century to them, since they obviously aren’t here yet. This is obvious by the times they start some games. Apparently, these suits are unaware of the concept of the DVR, which the vast majority of people have access to. They think the one and only way a human being can watch a sporting event on TV is when the event is live, sitting in their living room. As a result, you see games scheduled late into the evening. Apparently, to the minds of the TV suits, nobody in Los Angeles has a DVR and therefore the night game must be scheduled at 9 PM Eastern so the people in LA have time to get home and watch it. That’s hot garbage. The DVR is prevalent everywhere. Start any game that occurs on a Sunday or Monday at 7 PM Eastern. Allow people on the East coast that have to get up at 5 AM the next morning a chance to finish watching the game, and allow the people on the West coast to use that DVR they are paying for. The Super Bowl kickoff should NEVER happen after 5 PM Eastern.
6. Kill the exclusive rights deals. Again, some people don’t get the idea of simple math. The NFL offers this Sunday Ticket package, where every Sunday game is available to watch, only on DirecTV. This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. There are countless people that cannot get this satellite TV provider. Some live in places where they cannot get a signal. Some people live in communities that ban satellite dishes. Still others have had bad experiences with DirecTV and will never again do business with them. This package should be available on every TV provider. Any good business owner will tell you that if you make things easier for the customers, giving them options, will result in a more satisfied customer. To force your customer into a box because it’s more convenient for you is never a good idea.
7. Stop the stupid unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for end zone celebrations. Watch a football game and take a look at the official closest to a player that scores a touchdown. You will see that official, with his hand on his flag, staring at the player, ready to throw the flag for anything that resembles joy, happiness or fun about scoring. This is a GAME and it is ENTERTAINMENT. Let them entertain us. Give them 10 seconds to do whatever nonsense they want to do. If they go over 10 seconds, throw a flag for delay of game. If they cause structural damage (breaking the goal post when dunking the ball over it, causing huge divots in the field from the dance and ball spike, etc.), THEN throw the 15-yard flag. A 15-yard penalty is also appropriate for anything that normally cannot be done in a public place. Randy Moss once did a dance that mimicked mooning the fans in Green Bay. Mooning in public gets you arrested for indecent exposure, so you could throw a 15-yard flag for that. And don’t give me that “act like you’ve been there before” BS, either. You’re just saying everyone should act like Barry Sanders did, and hand the ball to the official. Sanders was one of the greatest players that ever lived. But he had the personality of a tree stump. He looked like he was miserable his entire playing career. Don’t make everyone act like him. Let the players have a little fun.