When Homer Simpson believed his heart would soon explode due to the ingestion of the venom of a poison blowfish, he imparted three pieces of advice to his son, Bart. Specifically, Homer shared three sayings for getting by in any workplace setting.
One, “Cover for me.” Two, “Great idea, boss.” And, three, “It was like that when I got here.”
That last line becomes the best excuse for the NFL’s adherence to the outdated rule that makes a fumble in the field of play that exits the end zone a turnover, with the defense getting the ball at its 20.
My assault on the rule is one of the chapters in Playmakers. I won’t rehash my complete and total hatred of the rule here. It’s stupid. It’s dumb. It’s nonsensical. It’s counterintuitive. If the ball goes out of bounds at the one-inch line, the offense gets possession at the spot of the fumble. If it touches the goal line before going out of bounds, the defense gets possession — not at the spot of the fumble but with 20 yards of free field position.
Via the folks at FootballZebras.com (who actually like the rule, referring derisively to those who properly regard it as an abomination as “the mob”), the XFL and UFSL will adopt the proper version of this rule for 2023. Possession reverts to the offense at the spot of the fumble.
The only defense to the NFL’s version of the rule is that’s the way it’s always been. So what? Once upon a time, a pass that landed incomplete in the end zone also triggered a touchback for the defense. And that rule went away.
The fact that the Competition Committee has never seriously considered changing the rule doesn’t count as an endorsement of it. If/when that rule ever is applied when more than 100 million people are watching the Super Bowl, it will change before the next season. Guaranteed.
That’s how the NFL rolls. Ignore a problem that’s hiding in plain sight until it creates an embarrassment that forces a change. The NFL is typically reactive, not proactive, regarding the flaws in its rulebook.
There’s another reason why there hasn’t been a groundswell to change the rule. For every team that is screwed by its application, another team benefits.
The game would benefit by ditching this rule. Good for the XFL and USFL to embrace reason and common sense. Hopefully, the NFL will wake up and change the rule — before it’s applied in a Super Bowl and millions of casual, drive-by fans express dismay, followed by outrage.