In college football this year, players who target an opponent with a blow to the head will face an automatic ejection. The former head of NFL officiating thinks that will soon be the case in pro football as well.
Pereira was asked by the Big Ten Network if he sees the NFL adopting the college rule, and he said, “Sure, if this is successful.”
Pereira went on to say that he thinks the NFL is being forced to change if it wants the game of football to survive at all.
“The NFL has the same issues as college,” Pereira said. “This isn’t all about college football. The rules are about parents who don’t want to put their kids in Pop Warner football because they are scared of all coverage about concussions. So young kids are being turned away from the game. Those on the college and pro level have a responsibility to make the game safer on all levels. I have news for you: if the game dries up on the Pop Warner level, it will on every other level, too. There is no college or NFL football. It’s a trickle-up effect.”
Pereira added that rules regarding player safety, and especially blows to the head, are officiated differently than other rules in one key respect: With a penalty like a false start or holding, officials are told to err on the side of letting the players play. But the new emphasis on player safety has officials being instructed to err on the side of calling a penalty if they think there might have been an illegal blow to the head.
“It’s contrary to any other concept of officiating,” Pereira said. “We always told people to not throw the flag unless they are 110 percent sure. But in this area, over the past decade, it’s become OK to err on the side of safety. They throw the flag on impact; they throw when they think it’s close because the book tells them to do that. And the rules committee tells them to do that. They are charged with trying to protect players. They didn’t make the rules. They don’t mind doing this.”
In 2007, when Pereira was running the officiating department, the NFL instructed officials to eject players for flagrant hits to the head, but NFL officials very, very rarely do so. The new college rule, however, is expected to result in scores of players getting ejected this season. And that soon may be the case in the NFL.