The rule that wiped out a 22-yard gain and turned it into a 15-yard loss for the Cowboys on Sunday eventually could be earned from the rule book.
A vestige of the ’50s, the rule that allows the referee to flag the offense for unsportsmanlike conduct if a player not in the game approaches the huddle and then leaves without participating in a play could soon be expunged.
As one source with thorough knowledge of the rule book and its application told PFT on Saturday, current game mechanics aimed at giving the defense a fair chance to match any changes the offense may be making in an effort to confuse the opponent make the threat of a 15-yard penalty irrelevant. Put simply, the so-called (at least by me) Brice Butler rule has become outdated.
For now, it exists. And it’s no coincidence that referee Tony Corrente is the man who called the foul on Sunday in Dallas. Corrente called the foul the last time the rule was invoked during a Washington-Dallas game in 2014. He’s regarded as the lone stickler on this issue among the NFL’s referees.
At a minimum, the rule book could be (and should be) cleaned up to eliminate conflict between the actual rule regarding offensive players who quickly enter and exit (Rule 5, Section 2, Article 5) and a provision that lists the penalties for various types of illegal substitutions (Rule 5, Section 2, Article 8) and that inaccurately summarizes the text of the rule to prohibit a player from “mov[ing] onto the field inside the field numerals and leaves without participating in one play.”
Even if the rule isn’t changed or modified, the NFL may consider making it a dead-ball foul. Since the violation locks in before the snap, there’s no reason to wait until after the play to call it and to enforce it. That would lessen the potential impact of the call; last Sunday, the Cowboys wouldn’t have lost 22 yards before losing 15.
Then there’s the practical impact of clinging to this archaic rule. If Corrente had never thrown the flag, it never would have been an issue. The Packers wouldn’t have complained that they didn’t get a fair chance to match the offensive personnel and/or that the 22-yard gain should have been wiped out due to a technicality. If they had, many would have accused the Packers of complaining about a goofy technicality.
Instead, the issue has become a distraction to what was an excellent and memorable playoff game — even though (as PFT has learned) the Cowboys never complained about it.