Friday, September 5, 2008

Fixing Football

The following rules absolutely need to be changed right away:

Holding(offense)-Past the line of scrimmage, it is 10 yards from the spot of the foul; behind it, 10 yards. In both cases, it remains the down it was before the play. WHY? The play happened and the rule clearly accepts the result of the play-it merely alters the outcome to reflect the infraction. So why isn't it the next down?

Undermining the deterrent effect is particularly problematic with holding because it is one of the more difficult rules to enforce. Linemen hold on every play-it's just a question of degree and concealment. A stronger deterrent will incentivize following the rules and make the refs' job easier. The result is better officiating.

Pass Interference(offense)-This is another rule with high stakes that is difficult to enforce. The worst is when the receiver interferes and the call goes against the defensive back. Again, the problem is incentives. Offensive pass interference is an infraction that really gives you great value for your committing penalties money(Bush would call it 'footballitical capital', the result of an imaginary mandate from the fans). Ten yards, replay the down! You don't even lose the down! Look at intentional grounding-10 yards, loss of down. The quarterback is about to get sacked, losing yardage and the down. So he throws the ball away to make it an incomplete pass-lost down, saved yardage. The rule book responds correctly by taking away the cheaply salvaged yards. Offensive interference mostly occurs when the pass is in the air and the likely outcome is an incompletion or interception. As before, the down is lost. The receiver pushes the defender trying to either prevent an interception or make a catch possible. Why does the offense get the down back? It makes no sense! This infraction is worth committing if there is ANY chance it will affect the outcome of the play or that the referee will miss the call(or possibly even call interference on the defender!). Defensive interference is a spot foul, meaning that substantial field position hinges on the referee's judgment call. The stakes are incredibly high. Why not make it reviewable? More on that in a bit.

Here is my proposal for a new Offensive Pass Interference rule. There shall be two classes of OPI-

1)Attempting to gain an advantage in an effort to catch the ball

2)Interfering with a defender who is attempting to catch the ball, regardless of whether the offender is himself attempting to catch it

Class 1 is 10 yards and loss of down. Class 2 awards possession to the defense at the spot of the foul.

A penalty that changes possession?!?! Am I insane? Maybe. The defensive PI rule establishes "make the result as if he caught it" so why shouldn't the offensive rule be the same? This fair rule would eliminate the current inefficiency, inevitably resulting in much less offensive interference. Just like with holding, the plays will be easier to call and the refs will make fewer mistakes.

Finally, current rules or my perfect ones, PI absolutely must be reviewable. If we can review a play to see whether a pass was caught or not, why can't we review a call whose consequences are exactly the same thing??

In general, for all sports, replay needs to be expanded. The "human element" argument is bullshit. Baseball could be officiated by robots who never make mistakes(put sensors on everything, so you can precisely know what touched what when), and that would be a wonderful thing. The argument that it slows down the game is wrong too. The NFL has shown that with the success of its current replay system, which everybody likes. The system should make reviewable all things that can reasonably be reviewed. And it should have a HQ in Toronto to call, so it can quickly receive final word on the review. It's possible that this would occasionally slow down games, but so what? For a close call of great importance, what matters is getting it right. Fans get so upset over bad calls that it's ridiculous to argue that we wouldn't appreciate a system that greatly minimized or eliminated those calls.

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