By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — A foolishly conceived rule, instituted with no foresight and put into practice without any practical testing, has unsurprisingly been a bit of a problem for the National Football League. But change may be coming.
Or, it may not. Like most matters involving the NFL, nobody can be quite sure.
But NFL.com’s Judy Battista did report on Tuesday that members of the NFL’s competition committee are “uncomfortable with the roughing the passer” penalty enforcement this season, to the point where they hope to change the rule on the fly in the middle of this season before more games (like the Vikings-Packers meeting in Week 2) are decided by such calls.
Battista added that the competition committee members are unsure if the rule can be changed, because it was instituted as a measure geared toward “player safety.”
So, while competition committee members clearly see fundamental flaws with the new application of the roughing the passer penalties — particularly the “body weight” language and, presumably, the “burping” language of the rule — any change or non-change ultimately may come down to the decision-making of commissioner Roger Goodell.
If you’re capable of even remotely reading between lines, and if you’ve followed the NFL for even a short period of time, then you understand what is being said here.
The choice to continue or discontinue the enforcement of an absurd rule will essentially come down to a public relations decision.
Sounds par for the course, really.
Competition committee members should not be discouraged by that factor, though, because the NFL significantly changed a “player safety” rule (on a rule that was even more preposterous than the roughing the passer rule) less than a month ago. People’s memory might be short these days, but this summer in the preseason, the poorly designed penalty for lowering the helmet was threatening to kill the entire sport of football as we know it, as the critics were saying. And, well, it was very bad. Who could have guessed that a rule hastily designed in March without any input from players or coaches would not be applicable to the sport of football?
Anyway, after the lowering of the helmet rule was enforced 51 times in 31 preseason games, the league promptly changed the rule to allow for “inadvertent” helmet contact to be legal. Since then, the panic and hysteria that broke out over the helmet rule has completely vanished. Though multiple instances of applicable contact occur in every single NFL game, the penalty has, in the span of a month, become a relic of history.
In the case of the penalty for lowering the helmet, the league appeared to have been determined to inspire a flurry of attention for this crackdown for “player safety,” but had no issue removing the actual enforcement of the rule once the message had been sent.
Now in the case of roughing the passer, one added presumably in response to Aaron Rodgers suffering a season-ending injury last season, the rule is clearly not working. Clay Matthews has been on the unfortunate receiving end of three penalties thus far, including one that negated what would have been a victory-sealing interception vs. Minnesota. Roughing the passer has now been called 34 times already, more than twice as many times as it was called through three weeks a year ago. The penalty was called four times in a span of 13 minutes on Monday night, marking the first time in the 21st century where both teams were penalized multiple times for the infraction.
It got to the point where even Ben Roethlisberger, the beneficiary of the new rule, basically complained about it, saying, “I can’t imagine the fans at home are enjoying it too much.”
With the mayhem and hysteria reaching a critical mass, it would be wise to expect the NFL to do what the NFL always does, and that is to bend to whichever way the public demands. In this instance, defensive players should feel safe to let gravity take them to the ground within a week or two. A poorly thought-out idea has proven to be preposterous. Rather than having the foresight to confidently know that this would be the result, the NFL went into “throw in the rule and see what happens” mode. Shockingly, it hasn’t turned out too well, and it sounds as though change will be coming.
Now just wait until the new rules for what constitutes a catch come into play in a nationally televised game, perhaps one involving the Patriots. An incident like that just may bring about the hat trick for reversing rules that don’t necessarily make a ton of sense.