As originally articulated by Commissioner Roger Goodell, the league would eject a player who racks up a pair of personal fouls in the same game. As proposed by the Competition Committee, the two-strikes/yellow card approach applies to a much more narrow band of behavior.
The categories are so limited that, as MDS noted on Friday, only two players would have been ejected during the 2016 season for the specific types of unsportsmanlike conduct that fall under what is, despite the total number of words involved, a fairly small umbrella: throwing a punch, forearm, or kicking an opponent, even if no contact is made; using abusive, threatening, or insulting language or gestures to opponents, teammates, officials, or representatives of the NFL; or using baiting or taunting acts or words that engender ill will between teams.
So in 256 regular-season games last year, only two players would have been ejected if this rule were in place. And that’s with the officials not knowing that a two-strike/yellow card rule was in place.
With the officials aware of the consequences of a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls, they’ll be more careful when it comes to throwing the first one. They’ll be much more careful when it comes to throwing the second.
Officials don’t want to eject players, because officials don’t want to affect the competitive balance of a game. Doing the job is hard enough under normal circumstances. If/when (when) all hell breaks loose during a post-play scrum, it becomes even harder to know who has done what to whom and when.
What if they make a mistake as to who threw a punch? What if the official is simply upset in the heat of the moment because he got shoved or knocked down?
The officials would prefer that the league office study the film and make dispassionate assessments and mete out punishment accordingly. It’s more reliable factually, and it’s also more fair to the players, since they can appeal a suspension but can’t appeal an ejection.
These realities make the new rule, as a practical matter, meaningless. If two players would have been ejected last year under a formula that didn’t exists, how many will be ejected this year? The over/under is 0.5, and we’ll take the under.
Which may be what the NFL wants as it tries to continue having it both ways, wagging a finger at misconduct with one hand and counting the money that comes from the extra drama and intrigue with the other.