Last week I addressed the first half of the rules and wording changes for the 2016 NFL season. The following addresses the second half of such changes:
1. In the past, the amount of time that could run off the clock during a field goal attempt often depended on the quickness of the game timer and his understanding of exactly when the play ends. As such there were instances where upwards of 7-8 or more seconds would be taken off the clock in such situations. To address this situation and ensure consistency throughout the league on such plays, the wording in the Rule Book has been revised to include the following: "For a successful field goal, or for an unsuccessful attempt that does not land in the field of play, the maximum amount of time that can run off the game clock is five seconds."
2. A rule change that was discussed extensively when it was first announced is the relocation of the starting point for the offensive team following a touchback on a free kick. The rule change was made to ostensibly reduce the number of kickoffs run back and thus increase player safety. Although there is much speculation regarding whether the change will actually work as intended (although it has done so in the NCAA), the rules were changed as follows: "After a touchback, the team that has been awarded a touchback next snaps the ball at its 20-yard line from any point on or between the inbound lines, unless the touchback results from a free kick, in which case the ball shall be placed at the team’s 25-yard line."
3. In a continuing effort to protect the QB's while at the same time attempting to clarify what a defensive player may and may not do, the rule book was amended to include the following: "A rushing defender is prohibited from forcibly hitting in the knee area or below a passer who has one or both feet on the ground, even if the initial contact is above the knee. It is not a foul if the defender is blocked (or fouled) into the passer and has no opportunity to avoid him. Notes: (1) A defender cannot initiate a roll or lunge and forcibly hit the passer in the knee area or below, even if he is being contacted by another player. (2) It is not a foul if the defender swipes, wraps, or grabs a passer in the knee area or below in an attempt to tackle him, provided he does not make forcible contact with the helmet, shoulder, chest, or forearm." This is a very difficult call for the referee even with the new "clarification" and it can be expected that some of the calls during the season will result in consternation on the part of many.
4. The rule that an offensive player may not be dragged down forcibly from behind by the shoulder pads or jersey was put in a few years ago as another safety measure. This year the rule has been extended to include any such tackles that involve the area above the nameplate on the back of the jersey as well as clarifying that the offensive player need not be pulled all the way to the ground for a foul to be called. The revised wording is as follows: "No player shall grab the inside collar of the back or the side of the shoulder pads or jersey, or grab the jersey at the name plate or above, and pull the runner toward the ground. This does not apply to a runner who is in the tackle box or to a quarterback who is in the pocket. Note: It is not necessary for a player to pull the runner completely to the ground in order for the act to be illegal. If his knees are buckled by the action, it is a foul, even if the runner is not pulled completely to the ground."
5. There was much concern at the end of last season regarding a proposed rule change that would mandate the ejection of a player committing two or more Unsportsmanlike Conduct fouls during the course of the game. (This change was the result of the Beckham - Josh Norman actions in the Giants - Panthers game and the fact that Terry McAuley's crew did not eject either player.) The rulesmakers have now made it clear that for a very limited type of USC fouls occurring in the same game, ejection of the offending player shall be mandatory. The new rule reads as follows: "There shall be no unsportsmanlike conduct. This applies to any act which is contrary to the generally understood principles of sportsmanship. Such acts specifically include, among others: (a) Throwing a punch, or a forearm, or kicking at an opponent, even though no contact is made. (b) Using abusive, threatening, or insulting language or gestures to opponents, teammates, officials, or representatives of the League. (c) Using baiting or taunting acts or words that engender ill will between teams. ... Two violations of (a), (b), or (c) (above) by the same player, which occur before or during the game, will result in disqualification in addition to the yardage penalty. Any violations at the game site on the day of the game, including postgame, may result in discipline by the Commissioner."
"The player will be automatically disqualified regardless of whether the penalty is accepted or declined by the opponent. The fouls do not have to be judged by the official to be flagrant for the automatic disqualification to occur, and any foul that occurs during the pregame warm-up period will carry over into the game. Nothing in this section supersedes the Game Official’s discretion to judge a foul to be flagrant and disqualify the player based on one occurrence."
It should be noted that the officials always have had the authority to eject a player for even one of the above violations if they deemed the offense particularly egregious so the rule change only adds the mandatory aspect for two or more fouls. All other USC fouls will continue to be penalized in the same manner as has been the case in the past.
[It is worth noting that the NCAA has expanded this rule this year to include coaches as well as players. Although it is highly unlikely that a Head Coach will be assessed two USC penalties in the course of a game, It will be interesting to see how this rule is enforced on the college level as well.]
6. Although in the past there have been numerous instances where Head Coaches have run down the sideline towards the goal line to get the attention of an official to call time out or to challenge a play, technically such actions were illegal and could have been flagged. This practice is now allowed as is noted in the new rules: "When the ball is positioned near a goal line, a Head Coach may move laterally down the sideline outside the bench area to call a team timeout or challenge an on-field ruling."
7. To clarify where fouls should be enforced on plays that involve reception of the ball in the end zone, the rules now indicate: "Fouls by Team B (Team A impetus): (1) If Team B does not attempt to advance the ball, regardless of whether its foul occurs in the end zone or in the field of play, enforcement is from the 20-yard line, or from the 25-yard line if the impetus was from a free kick. (2) If Team B attempts to advance the ball, and the spot of its foul is in the field of play, the penalty is enforced from either the spot of the foul or the touchback spot (20 or 25), whichever is least beneficial to Team B. (3) If Team B attempts to advance the ball, and the spot of its foul is in the end zone, the result is a safety."
8. Another clarification regarding enforcement spots is as follows: "If there is a personal foul or unsportsmanlike conduct foul by the offense during a fumble or backward pass that is recovered by the defense, enforcement is from the dead-ball spot. If the recovering team subsequently loses possession, the penalty is enforced from the spot of its recovery, and it retains possession."
9. Finally, another clarification regarding enforcement spots is as follows: "If both teams foul after the last change of possession (Double Foul After Change of Possession), the penalties are offset, and the team last in possession shall retain the ball at the spot where possession was gained. If the spot where possession was gained is normally a touchback, the ball is placed on the 20-yard line, or the 25-yard line if the impetus was from a free kick. If it is normally a safety, the ball is placed on the one-yard line. On kicking plays, if Team A fouls prior to the change of possession, Team B shall also have the option in (1) above."
10. Last season we saw an increased involvement of the league office in the officiating of the game, especially when there was uncertainty on the field regarding enforcement spots, proper down and status of the game clock. Although I am not a fan of such involvement, especially as the Head of Officiating, Dean Blandino, has never officiated a game in his life, there are certain things that can best be caught by those who have access to replay and an ability to review plays and the prior situation in real time. To formalize such involvement, the rules have been revised to indicate the following: "There is no limit to the number of Replay Reviews that may be initiated by the Replay Official. ... The Replay Official and designated members of the Officiating department at the League office may consult with the on-field officials to provide information on the correct application of playing rules, including appropriate assessment of penalty yardage, proper down, and status of the game clock." It is anticipated that such "involvement" will come through the communications headsets that the NFL implemented last season (and which have been of limited value to date.)
Many of the new rules and revised wording involve situations that rarely occur and, as such, they will not only have limited impact on most games and will not be recognized by most fans (and sadly, most TV announcers and color men). No matter how many changes and revisions are made, it is certain that some situations will arise that will necessitate further clarification down the road. Football is a complex game and it is impossible to provide definitive guidance to the officials on every situation that may arise during the course of the season. However, the NFL rules are not considered to be overly complex by the officials (despite claims to the contrary by many) and are well understood by the officials. When it is recognized that a typical regular season involves in excess of 30,000 plays, the number of errors regarding rules and rule enforcement that are made is minuscule. However, this does not stop the media types, especially the electronic media "bloggers," and many fans from criticizing the officials every chance that they get, even when such criticism is undeserved.
Enjoy the season!