Rules, schmules. All that is being done, is simply messing around with a great game.
That's a majority opinion from my own, definitely unscientific research into the recent rule changes set forth by NFL owners last week during league meetings. Not everyone seems to share the above general opinion, but here's a thought to consider - are we really messing around with the game?
And an even better question - does the game need to be messed with in the first place?
With so much under the microscope these days concerning player safety issues and correcting perceived "errors" in the game, it shouldn't be at all surprising that those in the business of football are beginning - ever so slightly - to push back to change. Arizona head coach Bruce Arians is a perfect example of the "football establishment" standing up to defend a sport that's being dissected inside and out.
Because the NFL has a growing issue over the potential link between concussions and the degenerative brain disease known as CTE, it seems a line in the sand has been drawn. Do the powers-that-be need to protect and/or change the sport? Should there be more emphasis on player safety?
It's a sexist thought, but chances are you know someone who might say "do we need to put skirts on to play, too?"
"Our game is great. People that say, 'I won't let my son play (football) are fools," Arians told MMQB.com in a recent video interview. Arians is known for his blunt, candid demeanor, but I cannot imagine he's really calling out parents who have their own child's best interests at heart.
Rather, in his own way, Arians undoubtedly is simply defending football as a teaching tool. "I think it teaches more values than any other game that you play," he added. "Toughness. Get up and fight. You have things that happen in your life that aren't going to be good. If you play football, you know how to handle them."
Again, consider the source. Arians is a football coach, and he's merely advocating for a sport and a way of life he's known for decades...even if his defense of football is somewhat misguided. What Arians isn't saying within his passionate retort is there are other sports that can certainly teach toughness, values, sportsmanship. And that is certainly true.
But they're not football. Football has long been considered one of life's true metaphors. The physical nature of being knocked down, or outrun, tackled and otherwise punished is just part of the game. You try to overcome those obstacles and "score" or win in the end, much like you hope to overcome everyday obstacles in regular life. Yes, football can be a great teaching tool.
I get his point. But Arians is a smart man, too. He knows that for the sake of the sport, football must evolve. Change doesn't have to be viewed as being wrong. Athletes are bigger, stronger and faster. Equipment must evolve for protective purposes, or there won't be much of a game left to play as time moves on. And yes, rules must evolve because the athletes are changing, too.
Coaching changes all the time. In-game adjustments are talked about almost as much as the stars and scoring plays themselves. How many times have we seen a coaching game-plan neutralize what other teams do well? Offense sells the tickets, but didn't a dominant Denver Bronco defense just put a muzzle on Carolina's multi-talented Cam Newton to win a Super Bowl?
See, Arians is simply defending his sport. But if he's to continue to have the ability to be creative enough to beat the other guys, he also knows his sport needs to address some serious issues. Rule changes don't have to be permanent, if they don't work or don't benefit the sport or the athletes, they can always change again.
But it's when we ignore that some change is needed - that's when we're really messing around with a great game.
Ch-ch-changes in the rulebook for 2016
- In case you missed them, here is what NFL ownership decided to tackle within the rule book for next season:
- Starting this season, any player flagged for two specific unsportsmanlike conduct fouls in a game will be automatically ejected.
- The spot of the snap after a touchback on kick-offs or punts will return the ball to the 25-yard line. Both of the above rules will be treated as one-year experiments.
- A permanent move of the line of scrimmage to the defensive team's 15-yard line for PAT attempts, and allowing the defense to return any missed try.
- Permitting the offensive and defensive play callers on the coaching staffs to use the coach-to-player communication system regardless of whether they are on the field or in the coaches' booth.
- Making all chop blocks illegal.
- Expanding the horse collar rule to include when a defender grabs the jersey at the name plate or above and pulls a runner toward the ground.
- Making it a foul for delay of game when a team attempts to call a timeout when they aren't allowed to do so.
- Eliminating the five-yard penalty for an eligible receiver illegally touching a forward pass after being out of bounds and re-establishing himself inbounds, and making it a loss of down.
- Eliminating multiple spots of enforcement for a double foul after a change of possession.
Strategy will undoubtedly change in special teams' play, especially when it comes to touchbacks beginning at the 25, rather than the 20-yard line. Best guess, you'll see more teams consider higher, looping kickoffs in an attempt to pin teams deeper within their own end of the field, rather than simply boom a kick through the back of the end zone.
The Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski was among the NFL leaders in touchback percentage this past season (New England was 5th overall), but it will be up to the coaching staff to decide if kicking game strategy should be altered. It's a rule that NFL Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent said was the subject of much debate, especially concerning the issue of player safety.
In other words, there is no consensus, other than "something" needs to be done - or at least tried. Hence, the one-year experiment, along with the auto-ejection for two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls. Will these new rules be an actual deterrent, a change for the better, or will the game (and the players and coaches) simply figure out a way around them?
Laziness or craziness in the NFL?
One of the items that caught my eye following the NFL owners' meetings and the free agency rush was Trent Richardson's statement that "it's very easy to get lazy in the NFL."
The now-Baltimore Ravens' running back was speaking to AL.com about his life in the league since being drafted third overall out of Alabama, and his latest attempt at a comeback after being cut by the Oakland Raiders last season.
Calling a player a "bust" is a term that is much too defining, and oftentimes unfair to those who have it pinned to their shoulder pads when they fall short of expectations. But in a game that demands production from high-salaried, top-rated draft choices, that expectation is just another part of playing the game. And if you don't produce, you get stuck.
"It's very easy to get lazy in the NFL, not having everything scheduled and not having everything like at Alabama where it was so structured," Richardson said. "We had study hall or we had to get a workout in in between classes and had five classes a day. It was just so structured. In the NFL, everything's on your own."
It's somewhat understandable, and not terribly surprising, that some favored athletes in college aren't prepared for the realities of the real world - or at least the realities of the NFL. Is this an excuse for lack of production, or even laziness, as Richardson put it?
That's crazy. Grow up, son.
Put some of the blame on football factories as institutions of higher-learning for not ensuring their student-athletes know what is expected of them, absolutely. But let's also put some of the blame on the adults involved, allowing these athletes to become lazy in the first place. Just how is someone who doesn't know any better - especially someone who has been coddled, carried and placated in sport and in life - supposed to know what responsibility is, unless someone takes the time to show them? And then hold them to it?
We could ask the same question of Carolina coach Ron Rivera, as he has attempted to deflect some of the criticism toward his QB, Cam Newton, on not owning up to his post-SB interview responsibilities as well. But that's another argument for another day, perhaps.
Let's also put some of the blame on the athlete too, whether they learned it in school or not. Responsibility is a choice. You can either get up and put in the work, or put it off until later. Or, not do it at all. Were you not responsible for developing into a good player to begin with, or were you simply born that way, with all of that talent?
Just know that your action(s), whatever they may be, will cause equal and oftentimes opposite reactions around you.
*John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and just completed his 23rd year 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 27 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame. *