The adoption of the fourth-and-15 alternative to the onside kick may be a matter of when not if. And the “when” could be tied directly to a broader business move the NFL will soon be making.
As Big Cat mentioned on Friday’s PFT Live, it’s possible that the league has decided to hold back a device that will keep games in doubt (and hold higher ratings) longer until the next wave of broadcast negotiations. Instead of making the change spontaneously — and in turn making the TV rights more valuable — the league can use the new approach as a sweetener when the next deals are being finalized.
Networks should want this device. The mere availability of the play, which as proposed could be used twice per game per team, in theory keeps the team that is trailing in a game even if the team is trailing by three scores. While the odds of scoring and then converting the fourth-and-15 play and then scoring again and then converting another fourth-and-15 play and then scoring yet again is remote, it’s a needle that will be easier to thread than the current score, onside kick recovery, score, onside kick recovery, score formula.
With the economy taking a hit, the league may need to find ways to add value to the next wave of broadcast deals. Holding back something that could make the games more interesting (while also talking about it enough to catch the networks’ interest) may be the right way to play it.
Regardless, it’s in the best interests of the game to find ways to keep games interesting for as long as possible. And if the best argument that can be made against the fourth-and-15 play is that teams that built a lead should be allowed to hold the lead, the best response is this: It’s up to your defense to hold the lead.