Brice Butler rule could be eliminated or modified

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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 erased 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 Put simply, the so-called (at least by me) Brice Butler rule has become outdated.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.

30 responses to “Brice Butler rule could be eliminated or modified

  1. Considering that one of the officials stands over the ball until all substitutions are complete makes this rule irrelevant.

    On that note, I wish they would eliminate the illegal formation rule regarding the outside receiver not “covering up” the TE. I think that is outdated as well. Sure. There can still be illegal formation penalties such as the tackle being set too far back from the line. But the whole covering up stuff is annoying.

  2. The rule is fine as is. Most teams handle personnel substitutions without much issue. Just because Dallas screwed up on a large stage doesn’t mean we need to rewrite the rule books to accommodate a player or coach mistake.

  3. The intent of the rule is so that the defense has an opportunity to match personnel, but what Butler did has a honest mistake and not intent on fooling the defense. The rule is stupid and 15 yards is too steep of a price to pay. What the NFL should eliminate or change is what Aaron Rodgers does, which is trying to catch the defense in substitutions then the defense gets called for too many men on the field. That is intentional and not the normal game plan, but is allowed under the current rules. What the defense should do is have a player go down as if injured to allow the substitution to get an injury timeout.

  4. Yea get rid of the rule and teams will have every offensive player on the field then run all but 11 off and snap the ball! The rule is a good one!

  5. Nothing wrong with the rule. It helps keep offenses honest, and judging by the frequency it’s invoked most teams are able to adhere to it consistently.

    But it hurt your Cowboys, so let’s change it!

  6. How bout we eliminate tony corrente, since he is the only one to call this penalty in the last couple of decades of football. That was a total bs flag thrown after the play had ended, total misuse and manipulation of the language of that rule, in order to assess a penalty.

  7. I don’t think the rule should be eliminated. What would keep a coach from running 5 or 6 players on the field and then off just before the snap? Patriots would take advantage of that one for sure.

  8. This rule is from the late 80s/early 90s Cincinnati Bengals under San Wyche. They would flood the huddle with 15-20 guys, then sprint people off and snap the ball. If this rule were removed in today’s highly specialized game, teams would start it back up tomorrow. It’s not the Bruce Butler Rule, it’s the Sam Wyche Rule.

  9. This rule has to be in place. Its already hard enough for the defense to substitute and without the rule they could easy send in different personnel to throw off the defenses call. Although maybe it shouldnt be a 15 yard penalty, that may be a little excessive.

  10. I don’t care if they keep the rule or not. What I want is for the officials to call the games consistently. With players constantly checking in and out of the games, you can’t make me believe that this has only happened twice in the last 10 years. Is it a coincidence that both happened in what were pretty high profile games involving the Cowboys (ratings), and called by the same ref? The same goes for defensive holding in this game. If you are going to let them play bump and run, hold jerseys, and hand fight for three quarters, you have established the rules for this particular game, much the same way that each umpire in baseball has his own strike zone. To start calling the fouls in the 4th quarter, even if they are truly fouls, is not fair to the players. Call it the same way for the whole game.

  11. It is amazing to me how many people are saying that if the rule were removed, offenses would put 20 players on the field and then run them off before the snap. They are completely ignoring the fact that an official stands over the ball and gives the defense an opportunity to substitute after the offense has finished. By running men off the field late, they will only be hindering their own ability to snap the ball before he play clock expires…Forcing them to call a timeout.

  12. When Dalles is flagged on this a third time will Garrett again say he never heard of the rule?

  13. Man stinks for the Cowboys, Dez catches the ball, refs call it incomplete, rule change the following year. Dallas gets screwed again in the playoffs on ridiculous call, rule change imminent. And some here post that the refs favor Dallas…lol.

  14. You’re wrong about this being a dead ball foul. The action isn’t a penalty until the snap of the ball to start the next play, since the player could run back on to the field and participate, which would eliminate the penalty.

  15. skunkgoosefly says:

    You can not blame the loss on that play.

    Yes you can.

  16. Why is it every time the Cowgirls lose a playoff game we have to change the rule book?
    Whine much cowgirl nation???
    What is next? Protest and smash bank windows?

  17. The Dallas playbook, instead of abiding by and following the rule, change the rule. Go Jerrah! lol

  18. We do not need to eliminate the rule because a flag is thrown. The rule is there for both teams to follow, ”it’s not there to hurt the Cowboys or benefit patriots”, all 32 teams have to follow. Should we eliminate pass interference only because it’s called on a defense more than an offense. No we shouldn’t. This rule has been there 20+ years and sorry but when you get paid millions+, you should know the rule book.

  19. Good article, very fair, and very correct. It wasn’t even correctly called and keeping a rule so that ONE referee in the NFL can call it against Dallas every two years, is something only an opposing fan can support.

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