NFL makes rare in-season rule adjustment

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The notoriously reactive NFL has gotten proactive, for a change.

The NFL has issued, without prior discussion, debate, or deliberation (at least none that was known), a so-called “approved ruling” that provides an interpretation of one of the league’s official rules. The move comes only days before the start of the postseason.

The new approved ruling, A.R. 15.128, addresses a loophole that would apply in one very narrow circumstance: When an incomplete pass is overturned via replay review to a fumble, and the fumble is recovered in the end zone absent video evidence of a clear recovery.

Previously, the absence of a clear recovery would have kept the end result at an incomplete pass. Now, it becomes a safety, since at a minimum the ball necessarily was recovered by the offense, resulting in two points for the defense.

The new approved ruling isn’t a reaction to something that happened during the 2018 season or previously, according to the NFL, “There is no example of this play occurring or ruling being applied in an NFL game.”

There likely is an interesting story about how this all came to be, since it goes against a firmly-established tendency to tolerate rules that could lead to an unfair result until the unfair result demonstrates the need for a rule change.

Also, the league rarely changes a rule during a season. But since this rule never had been applied to convert a safety to an incomplete pass, no competitive considerations apply.

Here’s hoping the NFL applies more proactivity to much-needed rule changes in the future.