You're the Grand Poobah for a day.
We all have thoughts on what we'd like to see from the game of pro football. From rule changes to fan interaction to keeping a lid on rising prices, there are probably several items on your personal agenda for improvement within the NFL.
It's a big week in Arizona this week. The Final Four is coming to Phoenix, the Arizona Diamondbacks open their baseball season and NFL owners are gathering for their annual league meetings, with plenty of items on their own agenda. Most likely, there will be as much (if not more) interest in what the owners do this week than in college kids shooting hoops, or in early-season hardball right out of spring training.
Knowing the criticism the NFL has weathered over the past few years - much of it self-inflicted - how does real change occur? By creating a consensus. The Patriots have stuffed the suggestion box over the past couple of seasons with potential improvements, with some new ideas gaining traction, others being dismissed as partisan ploys or not cost-efficient.
This year, New England seems to be letting other teams, organizations and owners take the lead.
Some of the ideas that have come up for discussion, especially when it comes to rules on the field, have a good deal of momentum behind them already. The Patriots have never been shrinking violets when it comes to suggestions for improvements, and have long been forward-thinking in their plans. A few items on the owners' agenda have been Patriot-led previously, but now?
Others can see the wisdom behind those initial suggestions, too.
Items like replay challenges (championed this year by Buffalo and Seattle) becoming unrestricted for a coach, alternate helmet rules (proposed and later withdrawn by Philadelphia) and broadcast formatting to streamline games and shorten their length have previously been Patriot-led. Having an additional push from your competitors - friendly or otherwise - is never a bad way to get what you want.
So, what do you want? If you could be Commissioner for a day, or sit in on owner's meetings this week to make constructive suggestions toward improving the NFL product - what would your agenda look like?
I'll share three ideas and potential changes I'd like to see the NFL enact for 2017. Feel free to agree, disagree, or share your own priorities in the comments section below. After all, if you're the Grand Poobah, you're important enough to be heard.
Even if sometimes you don't make a lot of sense.
#1: Streamline game broadcasts
This is an absolute no-brainer. The average NFL broadcast took three hours and seven minutes (give or take) to complete this past season, slowly stretching itself from sub-3:00 game times just a few years ago. It is what fans complain most about, other than their own teams' on-field misfortune or mistakes.
With so much wasted time during a game just to sneak in commercials in the TV broadcast, the Commissioner is looking to streamline the flow of a game to make the commercial interruptions occur at more natural moments. Notice I didn't mention there would be FEWER commercials. Oh no. Just fewer breaks for commercials.
That's an acceptable alternative to fewer commercials overall, because after all, TV needs to pay its bills. And league sponsors need the air time they've paid for. But streamlining or reformatting is required, as only 8% of a broadcast was actual game play, with 24% of the time coming from commercials as recently as 2014 (according to Business Insider).
Expect replay reviews to become centralized, the institution of a play clock/timer also being utilized after scoring plays and kickoffs, and the possibility of shortening a potential overtime period from 15 minutes to 10 minutes.
I don't personally like the last suggestion (allegedly made by a Colts' fan, originally), as I'd like to see both teams have a possession in overtime. But that's just me. Commissioner Goodell did send a letter to fans last week (mine must have been lost in the mail?) suggesting each of these possibilities as ways to "tighten" up the TV broadcasts.
#2: Don't limit coaches' challenges
Seems like this would fly right in the face of shortening the TV time of games, doesn't it?
It puts the onus on officiating crews to get the calls right, which is the bigger-picture view of this rule. Creating full-time officials' jobs within the NFL is another way to potentially address the issue, too.
But if a coach is successful with his challenges, he should be able to continue toward that path of accuracy, no? The rule would still state the limit on challenges will remain at two, if both are unsuccessful. Rewarding success is the right thing to do.
It would be an upset if the challenge rule is changed, quite frankly, because of the timing issue above. But it would certainly give immediate accountability to officiating crews - and that's what we really need.
#3: Let the leap live
You know the leap. It's what Jamie Collins did a couple of years ago, and what Shea McClellin did this past season. He also missed on one, but you knew it was coming. It was still exciting to anticipate.
Seriously, the NFL competition committee is considering banning the leap over center on kick attempts, because player safety issues come into question. I'm all for safety - we're not barbarians, here - but really, does the snapper ever pull his head up quickly enough to where this would be a problem?
The NFL head of officiating, Dean Blandino, reports there have been instances of players getting flipped over, landing on their heads or necks, and the possibility of concussive repercussions from such plays. But I would add - how often does this play really take place? Once? Twice per season?
Teams know if this attempt is coming, for the most part. Often teams won't even have anyone with the physical traits to try such a play, let alone succeed with it. Leave this rule alone. It's a small price to pay for the anticipatory excitement it can create, as rarely as it occurs. Which was all of twice last season (Seattle's Bobby Wagner did it, too).
And we all know the NFL could use a little more fun, right? Now, about that instructional video on how to celebrate after a big play…
John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and just completed his 24th season as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 29 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame, and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.