Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Maybe Football Needs to Borrow a Rule from 'Football'

It appears that everyone's soap box chatter of the week is revolving around concussions and football. Yeah, DeSean Jackson and Todd Heap forgot who their mommas were for a little while because of some brutal headshot hits.

It is a problem, defensive backs are firing into defenseless receivers at such speed and ferocity, that it's like we're watching guys get in to major car wrecks about a dozen times every Sunday. I'm honestly surprised we haven't seen anyone killed in the last five years.

And there's a lot being said by the talking heads in regards to NBC Sports' Rodney Harrison's comments on Sunday that, as a player, fines never got his attention, and that it was only when he was suspended that he would reconsider the manner in which he played.

A day later, cue the NFL. Ray Anderson, NFL VP of Football Operations:
There's strong testimonial for looking readily at evaluating discipline, especially in the areas of egregious and elevated dangerous hits... Going forward there are certain hits that occurred that will be more susceptible to suspension.
Now, most everyone is applauding this stance, but I don't believe we have really gotten anywhere yet. There are a few blanks to be filled, such as: Which hits will be deemed suspendable? Will they all be one game suspensions, or will 'bigger' hits be more than one game? Who decides how long the player is out? Are the suspensions enacted immediately (is there an appeal opportunity)? Can a player be ejected by a referee for one of these hits, and will a suspension then follow?

You can see that there is a lot of grey area to still be filled out. It looks like the NFL needs someone that can provide some guidance, and some answers.

That's where I come in. You know me, I'm a 'solution' guy.

Before I begin with my proposal, I want to you to know that I expect this idea to be met with immediate dismissal. Not because the proposal isn't sound, but because people are generally dumb. As I will explain, my proposal is already present in two of the biggest sports in the world, just the general public doesn't realize it.

I propose the NFL adopts a yellow card/red card system similar to the sport that, in other countries, bares the same name. If you are unfamiliar with how the soccer yellow card and red card process goes, here is a refresher:
A yellow card is shown by the referee to indicate that a player has been officially cautioned. The player's details are then recorded by the referee in a small notebook; hence a caution is also known as a "booking". A player who has been cautioned may continue playing in the game, however a player who receives a second caution in a match is sent off (shown the yellow card again, and then a red card), meaning that he must leave the field immediately and take no further part in the game. The player may not be replaced by a substitute. Law 12 of the Laws of the Game (which are set by the International Football Association Board and used by FIFA) lists the types of offences and misconduct that may result in a caution.

...the accumulation of a certain number of yellow cards over several matches results in disqualification of the offending player for a certain number of subsequent matches, the exact number of cards and matches varying by jurisdiction.
Now, the red card:
A red card is shown by a referee to signify that a player has been sent off. A player who has been sent off is required to leave the field of play immediately and must take no further part in the game. The player who has been sent off cannot be replaced during the game; his team must continue the game with one fewer player. Only players, substitutes and substituted players may receive a red card. Law 12 of the Laws of the Game lists the categories of misconduct for which a player may be sent off.
So, to recap that for you and apply it to American football (I'll follow with some clarifications):

A player engages in what is deemed an 'illegal and egregious play' by the referee or anyone on the officiating crew. That player is shown a yellow card, so that player is now 'on notice' that a second yellow card will result in an ejection from that game and a suspension from the following game.

That yellow card booking stays with that player through their next game (or two - something for the NFL to decide), so that the player is still 'on notice' and eligible for a suspension on their next 'illegal and egregious play'.

If a player engages in an act that the game officials decide is overly egregious, then they have the right to give that player a red card on the spot, regardless if the player was 'on notice' or not. They are ejected and suspended from the following game.

Through the course of a season, if a player accumulates multiple (maybe 5 or 6?) yellow cards, they are suspended for a game. This way, multiple-time offenders that have gotten away from successive-game yellow cards still have to be aware of how they play. Perhaps a second or third red card would result in an additional game suspension.

Of course all game suspensions are without pay. That way, we've REALLY gotten everybody's attention.

Got it? Fairly simple, right?

There's lots of wiggle room with this in terms of the number of cards, how long someone stays 'on notice', and how many games per suspension, but that's the main idea. As I said, I expect to get a lot of immediate dismissal for this idea. You know why?

Because it's soccer.

That's honestly why many people won't like this idea. And that's dumb. Because these same people don't have this problem with another major American sport THAT HAS THE EXACT SAME RULE!

Ever heard of the NBA?

Confused? You shouldn't be. While they may not have yellow and red cards, they do have things called 'technical' and 'flagrant' fouls. The NBA has had a rule that during a season, on the 16th technical foul, the player will receive a one-game suspension, with suspensions to follow on future technical fouls. And when it comes to the flagrant fouls, go check out the NBA rules - there's a lot of words like "Commissioner" and "sole discretion" close together.

So soccer has this rule and so does the NBA, and we've been fine with it. Lots of people I believe would argue that the NFL is just too fast for officials to determine whether or not a hit was egregious, and that there would be too many errors. NBA refs and soccer refs make errors all the time, and in the NBA, the league has the option to rescind the technical or flagrant - the NFL can do the same thing. So don't be come at me with the 'speed of the game' argument.

And if we really want to outsmart the anti-soccer folks, just change the colors of the cards - they'd never know.

But in the end, it shouldn't be about what we like or don't like, or what pre-conceived notions we have about less 'macho' sports and their association with OUR 'macho' sport. The point of it all is to get NFL players to stop trying to kill each other, and while we can cry and wave banners for assistance in helmet technology, I believe it will only stop once the fundamentals of the game are encouraged.

Wild, bezerker-type assistant coaches may be encouraging their players to separate the ball from the man by any means possible. Well, they can't do it if they aren't on the field. I think this proposal would help with that.

And for the few of you out there that are saying this rule would be another rule to help the offense by taking some of the games better defensive players out, I do hear you. How about chop blocks by offensive lineman or receivers? You get caught with a dirty chop block - yellow card. It can work both ways.

So, the NFL can dance around this for awhile - and maybe we'll all forget about it this time next week. But the talk this week from the NFL doesn't just need to be lip service with cloudy, indistinguished guidelines.

They need a real plan. So, why not use one that already works?