While the regular season is still months away, meetings this week could change some of the rules and have a big effect on games this fall. The NFL owners are gathering for the 2012 NFL Owners meetings, starting today in West Palm Beach, Florida, and they will be voting on a whole host of potential rule changes that we could see for 2012.
A lot of these are long overdue, but change in the NFL tends to move slowly. Items that are being discussed this week include the following:
1 – Concussions
There is a proposal to lessen the impact on a team of a player being out following a concussion. Currently, an independent doctor has to clear players to return to practice and play, and there is a lot of desire from the players to come back quickly, and from the team to get them back quickly. The proposed rule change would allow a team an extra roster spot to replace a player while he is recovering from a concussion. It’s an incremental step, but if it can help to reduce the pressure on players to come back early, it is helpful. Returning too early and potentially suffering a second traumatic brain injury can cause long term consequences for players.
Concussion prevention and treatment are always big issues, and we applaud any effort to move that forward more quickly. Changes have largely been driven by high profile events, and what happened last season with Kris Dielman and Colt McCoy should never have occurred, but both events resulted in incremental changes in concussion protocols.
2 – Overtime Rules
The NFL changed the rules for overtime games in the post season last year, to prevent a game from ending on an opening drive field goal. In the event that the team that receives the kickoff marches down and kicks a field goal, the other team gets one possession to attempt to tie, or win with a touchdown. The issue up for discussion is whether or not to extend that rule to the regular season. This seems like a slam dunk, since there is no reason for a different rule in the playoffs than in the regular season.
3 – Instant Replay
Last season, the instant replay rules were broadened to include reviewing every scoring play and the proposal that will be discussed will be to broaden that further to include automatic review of every change of possession play.
The Buffalo Bills have proposed going back to the old instant replay system, where an official in the booth reviews plays rather than rolling out the booth and having an on field official put his head in a box, as if he were taking a picture with an antique camera from the 1800s. It’s unknown how much support there is for this change, but it would seem to provide a calmer, less distracting location for making an instant replay call.
4 – Trade Deadline
The current trade deadline is six weeks into the season, and the proposal would be to push that to 8 weeks into the season, or roughly the midpoint. Given the importance of injuries and replacing injured players during the season, this change seems to make a lot of sense and has no downside.
5 – Roster Changes
A couple of other proposed changes are designed specifically to provide teams more flexibility in dealing with injuries. One is to expand the roster size to 90 players from 80 that it currently is, with the active roster size staying at 53. This provides added flexibility in addressing injuries during the season. The Jacksonville Jaguars had so many players on the injured reserve by the end of the season last year that they finished the season without a practice squad at all.
One other change that is under discussion is to provide added flexibility on the injured reserve list. Currently, when a player is put on injured reserve, they are out for the season. The proposed change would allow a team to designate one injured player per season in a category that allows him to return after eight weeks, calling it “designated for return.” This seems like another no brainer. You never know how the discussion will go, but this seems to have no downside.
Consider the issue of Peyton Manning. He was out at the beginning of the season, and they Colts kept him on the active roster all season in the hopes that he could return in December, knowing he was out for at least 8 weeks. Under the new rule, he could be designated for return and placed on IR for 8 weeks, and they could add another player to their active roster.
There are other rules under discussion as well, but one thing not on the agenda is the 18 game schedule. While the NFL was pushing for that in the last off season, the NFL players and NFLPA has pushed back aggressively. Steelers’ president Art Rooney said this week, “I would say it’s a dead issue for now… I haven’t heard anything about it. I don’t know if it will come up in the future, but it’s certainly not on the agenda for this meeting.”