Sunday, October 6, 2013

Saving football from itself

Football is at a major inflection point. These don't come along often. The first one of this nature was at the beginning of the twentieth century when Teddy Roosevelt "saved" football by urging rule changes. In 1905 there were reportedly 19 fatalities from playing football. Following that season an intercollegiate conference, forerunner to the NCAA, established radical changes for safety's sake. The NCAA would continue in this capacity, in-sport rule-making body, for another 50 years or so before becoming the cartel it is today.

Other inflection points have been the creation of two-platoon football the first time in 1941 ending in 1954 and the second time in 1965 and the widespread racial integration of the sport in the 1970s.

Today the inflection point is again safety related. The sport is getting more physical and more dangerous as society is getting less tolerant of violence and wealthier--meaning the value assigned to safety and health are growing. Just as when the highest scoring offense meets up against the lowest point allowing defense, something's got to give. If not, this could be the end.

Here is a spitball list of some potentially safety enhancing changes to the game. Perhaps changes like these would be enough to save football. To many traditionalists, myself included, these may seem quite unpalatable. But the truth is change of some kind has to come. We can continue to dance around this if we want to, but we might be left behind. Some aspects of football as we know it today probably will someday look totally removed from the real world--the actions of imbeciles with everything out of control.

  • Get rid of the intentional grounding rule.
  • Outlaw all blocking below the waist.
  • Outlaw any tackling or blocking where the one tackling or blocking leaves his feet.
  • Extend the automatic ejection rule for "targeting" (one that I applaud except for the poor decision to not allow the 15-yard penalty portion to be reviewed as the ejection decision is reviewed) to horse-collar tackles or facemask infractions to include helmet and head tackles. For facemasks, perhaps bring back the idea of a difference in severity by including the ejection for more severe facemask infractions.
  • Outlaw zone defense including perhaps not allowing any defender to start play farther than 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
  • End kickoffs and punts--force fourth down attempts.