The worst rule in football reared its ugly head in the divisional round of the playoffs, robbing the Browns of possession near the goal line and giving the ball to the Chiefs on their own 20. Will the rule, hiding in plain sight for decades, now change?
“I do think the Competition Committee will look at that rule this year,” Chiefs owner Clark Hunt told Chris “Mad Dog” Russo of SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio. “A lot of times it takes a catalyst play in an important game for the Competition Committee to dig in and think about changing a rule that’s been around for a long time. And certainly that play hurt the Browns, helped the Chiefs, had an impact on the course of the game so I do think there’s a good chance it’ll be looked at. I don’t know where the Committee will come down but I can see arguments on both sides.”
I don’t see an argument on both sides. Some do. Those who do will be disinclined to get rid of the rule.
Also disinclined to get rid of the rule likely will be, surprisingly, the Browns. When it comes to screwy rules like this, there’s a weird mindset among most teams that, after getting burned by it, it makes sense to keep it in place because the next time that team will benefit from it. (Maybe that’s why the Chiefs would be willing to consider dumping it now.)
Hunt is right that a “catalyst play in an important game” compels change. However, the latest example likely wasn’t enough of a catalyst in a game that wasn’t sufficiently important. Critical mass won’t be achieved until this rule gets applied in a Super Bowl, when millions of casual fans start asking questions about why the team that nearly scored a touchdown lost possession to the other team, when the other team didn’t actually recover a fumble.
The solution remains simple and clear: If a player fumbles the ball into and out of the end zone before anyone recovers it, the offense gets the ball at the spot of the fumble. That’s exactly where the offense would have gotten the ball if it has bounced out of bounds one inch short of the goal line.