We all know how stubborn the NFL can be when it comes to changing their rules. For instance, it took them decades to finally adopt the 2-point conversion. Although they pretended the 2-point rule was something they didn't need, something the owners didn't want, and something the fans weren't begging for, the truth of the matter was that the prestigious NFL feared appearing to copy the college game, which already had the 2-point option.
But ever since the NFL swallowed its pride and adopted the 2-pointer (in 1994), the game has become much more exciting. So what if you NFL mandarins copied the college game? Who cares? All that really matters is that you wound up doing the right thing. We are now asking that you once again embrace innovation and adopt the following rule changes.
1. Reverse the definitions of "touchback" and "safety." This is an easy one, a no-brainer. A safety should be something "safe," something procedural, something that doesn't hurt your team. In a word, it should be what is currently called a "touchback," where the ball is downed in your own end zone, with no harm done and no points awarded.
Accordingly, a touchback should be what we currently call a "safety." If the opposing team downs a player in his own end zone, it's a "touchback" (the opposite of a touchdown), and the opponent is awarded two points. Presumably, the names were inadvertently switched while the rule-makers were under the influence of alcohol. (Fun fact: low-ball poker was invented the same way.)
2. Having 10 men on the field should not result in a penalty. Again, this is another no-brainer. Why on earth would you penalize a team for not having enough defenders? It's their own damned fault if the opponent takes advantage of the differential. Every fan in America understands why you get penalized for having 12 men on the field, but carelessly having only 10 defenders out there is a whole other deal. Who gives a rat's ass? Let 'em play.
3. Require only one foot in-bounds for a completed pass. Alas, this would be another case of the NFL being asked to copy the college game, but it's something that needs to be done. No more worry about scraping or dragging that second foot; no more cause for the officials to have to study and re-study slow-motion replays like Jesuit scholars poring over scripture. If you have one of your feet in-bounds, it means you caught the pass. Period.
4. Allow teams to challenge pass interference calls. Because pass interference is the most importance penalty in pro football, it needs to be open to challenge. Allowing a team to challenge where the ball was spotted--or whether a player had his toe one millimeter on the chalk line--but not allowing it to challenge pass interference is tantamount to allowing citizens to appeal jaywalking and speeding tickets, but not murder convictions. It makes no sense. In fact, I'm furious just thinking about it.
5. Allow teams an unlimited number of challenges. Questionable calls require review, no matter what. Parliamentary procedure must never be allowed to trump justice. But these extra challenges should come with risk. The refs will not only study the specific challenge, they will be allowed to scan the entire field of play, looking for infractions by the challenging team. And should they see, for example, an instance of holding or a chop-block, they will assess a penalty. It's a quid pro quo.
David Macaray is a Los Angeles playwright and author ("It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor").