Every offseason the NFL tells its officials about certain rules that will be emphasized that season — rules that haven’t actually changed, but that the league thinks officials need to call more strictly, or more consistently. Patriots coach Bill Belichick doesn’t like that.
Belichick says that if the NFL is changing a rule, it makes sense to make sure every official is clear on what the new rule is. But Belichick says there’s no need to place an emphasis on a particular rule because the officials should always be enforcing every rule consistently.
“If it’s a clear-cut rule that’s going to change — the kickoffs from the 30 [yard line] to the 35 — that’s pretty cut and dried,” Belichick said, via CSNNE.com. “But if it’s a rule that maybe has some gray area, or a rule that’s not a rule change, which is pretty common — you know, the league does this every year [when] it doesn’t change the rule, it says ‘we’re just going to emphasize it differently.’ Well I don’t really know what that means. We’ve tried to play by the rules from the beginning. We’re trying to play within the rules, but now they’re saying we’re going to emphasize the rule differently and I don’t really know what that means.”
Belichick sees players having to figure out on a game-by-game basis whether the officials are going to call a lot of penalties or not, and he doesn’t think that should be the case.
“We go out there and basically try to play the same every week,” Belichick said. “It’s not like we change our techniques or any other team does. We’ll see a game one week that has 19 penalties, and then the next week you’ll see a game that has eight penalties. Is one team fouling a lot more? Or is it being called a little bit differently? I don’t know. I think some of that is just — we see it in all sports, I’m not just singling out football. Some of it is just, as the game gets going, just understanding this is going to be called tight or they’re gonna kind of let them play today. It’s a little bit of figuring out on their own.”
Belichick knows first-hand about how changing the emphasis on a rule can change the way the game is played. After the Colts complained that their receivers were getting mugged by Belichick’s Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, the NFL emphasized illegal contact penalties with its officials, and those penalties dramatically increased the next season — even though the rule hadn’t changed. Belichick thinks that if the rule stays the same, the enforcement should stay the same, every game and every season.