That man in the white cap there is Gene Steratore, a head NFL referee who, along with most of his crew and some college officials, briefed the media today on some of the rule changes taking place today in the NFL. Though the presentation itself felt like I was back in college, it was actually kind of interesting to hear the new rule changes and how they may affect the game. Here are some highlights:
- The "force-out" rule, in which an a player attempting a catch or interception could've been deemed inbounds if he had been pushed out by an opposing player, is no more. Now if a player makes a catch or interception, both feet or any other part of his body save for his hands, must hit the ground for it to be deemed a completion, regardless if they were pushed out or not. The only exception is if the player is in possesion of the ball in the air and is carried out of bounds by an opponent.
- Also gone is the 5-yard face mask penalty, which used to be called when a defensive player unintentionally touched an offensive player's face mask while attempting a tackle. Now there is only a 15-yard face mask penalty, which is defined as when a defensive player grabs onto a face mask and pulls. It should also be noted that offensive players that grab onto a defensive player's face mask are also subject to a 15-yard penalty.
- This year, NFL defenses will be allowed to have one player who has a speaker in his helmet in order for coaches to communicate with him from the sidelines. Each defense will also be allowed a second, backup player with a speaker, but only one is allowed on the field at a time and any player with a speaker in his helmet must check in with an official before entering the game. Failure to check in with an official or having two players on the field with speakers will result in a five-yard penalty. Same goes with the offense. Also, while helmets on the offense with speakers will be marked with green dots, defensive helmets will be marked with red ones. Though there were previous reports that said backup helmets would be guarded in a secure area, Steratore said that the NFL has no definitive plan as of yet.
- Another change in that affects gameplay has to do with muffed snaps and fumbles. It used to be that when a quarterback lined up under center and there was a muffed snap, the play would be called dead if the quarterback touched the ball prior to it hitting the ground. Similarly, muffed forward hand offs that touched the ground would be considered forward passes and plays would be called dead. Now, when both events occur, the ball is considered to be still in play, like a fumble, and both the offense and defense have an opportunity to recover and advance the ball.
- Starting this season, field goals will be a reviewable play. That is to say, if there is any debate as to whether a ball successfull went over the crossbar and through the uprights (like during this Cleveland Browns-Baltimore Ravens game from last year) a coach can challenge or it would be an official review if there is less than two minutes remaining in the half. The only time this would not be reviewable is if the ball passes above the uprights. Steratore explained this is the case because there isn't an appropriate camera angle (in this case it would have to be at the base of the upright looking straight up) to determine the play.
- Other minor rules: Winners of the pre-game coin toss can defer whether to choose to kick, receive or which side to defend, making the rule just like in college and players on the field must have their chin straps fastened at all times.
- Lastly, as always the NFL is putting a big emphasis on sportsmanship. It seems like this is a story every year but taunting, excessive celebration and damaging of NFL equipment (if, say, a player throws a football at a game clock after a touchdown) will not be tolerated. And while it seems that unsportsmanlike conduct has increased in the last couple of years, really only the coverage of it has. According to a handy guidebook provided to the media by the NFL, the year with the highest number of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties was 1990, with 89. That number dropped to 34 in 1993 and has stayed to under 40 a season since then, save for 2006 where there were 56.
The main thing to take from these rule changes this year is that this is the first year in recent memory where most of the major rule changes actually benefit the defense. Even the officials that talked today admitted that it used to be that the offense would benefit the most from NFL rule changes, but there was no indication that there was any intention for this to happen. The main thing, they said, was that the NFL wanted to take the subjectivity out of the calls referees were making.
That's pretty much it for now. Ofcourse there are certainly some nuances and issues that may arise in the future, that's why the NFL goes through this process every year, but overall it seems to be cut and dry. Also, I took some video of the 20+ minute discussion and will try and put that up ASAP (though considering how dull the meeting was, It'll probably just be footage of the video we were presented).