No matter how wrong the NFL ever may be, the NFL rarely if ever will admit it.
And, thus, to no surprise, the NFL reportedly won’t be making any major changes to the much-criticized rule against lowering the helmet and initiating contact with an opponent.
According to Mark Maske of the Washington Post, NFL “rulemakers do not expect to significantly change the language of the rule, nor do they plan to expand the use of instant replay to include all penalties assessed under the rule” when the rule is discussed during a Wednesday conference call.
As one unnamed source familiar with the thinking of “league leaders” told Maske, “No language will be changed.”
Given the manner in which the rule was adopted, via the secret addition of the proposal to the previously-published list of Competition Committee suggestions and the characterization of the proposal to owners and coaches as a simple extension of the rule prohibiting lining up and ramming of an opponent with the top of the helmet, the forces that decided to push this provision through surely knew there would be pushback — and they surely knew it would be easier to deal with it after at least 24 votes had been harvested to make the permanent change to the rules. If the league office and/or Management Council had been frank and candid about the impact and breadth of the rule before presenting it to the membership in March, it may have been hard to avoid at least nine “no” votes. Now, it will take at least 24 votes to change the rule in any meaningful way.
Given that the regular season starts in 16 days, it becomes very easy for the league office and Management Council to hide behind rules, regulations, and bylaws regarding quorums and voting in order to avoid the opportunity for owners to make real changes to the rule before the games that count begin and the rule locks in through at least the full 2018 season.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be an effort to refine the rule when the conference call convenes on Wednesday. As written, the 21 words sweep much more broadly than most coaches thought it would, with no specificity regarding the portion of the helmet that can’t contact an opponent, no requirement of forcible helmet contact, no exception for incidental helmet contact, and no allowance for replay review to fix the mistakes made as hits happen or don’t happen in real time.
But if the people who run the league decide to dig in and hunker down, there simply won’t be a way to bring the matter to the kind of vote that could make the kind of changes that need to be made to keep the rule from being something different than what owners and coaches thought it was going to be, even if the rule is exactly what the league office and Management Council wanted it to be from the moment the 21 words were first written.
The best/only practical hope at this point will be the reaching of an informal consensus as to how the rule will be interpreted and applied, the plain language notwithstanding. Also, some believe that senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron may receive wink/nod approval to guide the referees regarding proper application of the rule which officials are caucusing on the field as to whether a foul will be called.
While that’s better than nothing, the best thing would be to adopt a fix that makes the rule much more clear than it currently is.