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Rule Re-Writes Up for NFL Vote

Posted Mar 20, 2011

Significant changes to the NFL return game could be on the horizon

Though the state of the CBA continues to dominate NFL headlines, the league could see sweeping changes this week that don’t deal with labor negotiations or litigation.

As is the case each year, NFL owners, head coaches and general managers will gather for league-wide meetings beginning on Sunday. This year’s session will be held at The Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana and continue through Tuesday afternoon.

In addition to labor-related matters that are bound to be addressed, three proposed rule changes are on the agenda as well. Amongst the proposals is a rule change that would drastically alter kickoffs and special teams play.

Part of the proposed kickoff rule change includes moving kickoffs up to the 35-yard line, placing the ball on the 25-yard line after touchbacks and eliminating wedge blocks altogether.

“We watched a lot of film and it is a play that we just think needs modification,” said Competition Committee Chairman Rich McKay.

It’s a controversial rule proposal that could meet stiff resistance from several teams – particularly those with elite kickoff return specialists.

Player safety is the focus behind the suggested change.

Each proposal must receive passing votes from at least 24 of the NFL’s 32 owners to take effect. Details on each of the three rule proposals are highlighted below

Last year, NFL Owners approved a change to the format of overtime for post-season games.

Playing Rule Proposal #1: Re-writing of Defenseless Player Rule

“We’ll try to expand one of the protections which is to the defenseless receiver himself, which is one of the eight categories of defenseless players,” explained McKay. “We’ll try to expand that protection until the receiver can either protect himself or clearly becomes a runner. We’re just trying to expand that window to protect that player from either getting hit in the head or getting hit by the head. Those are the two protections you basically have as a defenseless player.”

The eight categories of defenseless players would be defined, as follows, according to Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9.

1)    The quarterback or the player in the act of or just after throwing a pass

2)    The receiver attempting to catch a pass, which includes the receiver who hasn’t completed a catch or had time to protect himself

3)    A runner who’s already in the grasp of a tackler and whose forward progress has been stopped

4)    A kickoff or punt returner attempting to field a kick in the air

5)    A player on the ground at the end of a play

6)    A kicker or punter during the kick or during the return

7)    A quarterback at any time after a change of possession

8)    A a player who receives a blindside block

Playing Rule Proposal #2: Modification of the Kickoff

“The injury rate on the kickoff remains a real concern for us and for the players and for the Coaches Subcommittee, and so we will propose what I think would be a pretty major change to the play itself,” said McKay.

Key Changes Proposed:

1)    Move the kickoff line back to the 35 yard line from the 30

2)    Not allowing any member of the kickoff team other than the kicker to line up more than five yards from the kickoff line, meaning they would have to line up from the 30 yard line on a normal kickoff

3)    Moving the touchback on the kickoff from the 20 yard line to the 25

4)    Make the kickoff out of bounds penalty 25 yards from the kickoff line instead of 30, therefore the kickoff would still end up at the same place (the 40 yard line)

5)    Elimination of all forms of the wedge block, including the two-man wedge

Playing Rule Proposal #3: Modification of Instant Replay

There are two modifications proposed involving instant replay rules.

1)    Confirmation of all scoring plays

“You have all scoring plays – that includes any form of scoring, not a play that is ruled no score but a play that is ruled a score, and that would be field goals to the extent they’re reviewable, that would be safeties, that would be touchdowns – and we would have those plays confirmed upstairs by the replay official as we do in the last two minutes of both halves and overtime,” said McKay. “So the coaches would not have the challenge in that instance. They wouldn’t need to challenge.”

2)    Elimination of the third challenge

“It hasn’t been used very much at all in the last four years and we felt that we were taking so many plays away from the coaches and not putting them in the position of needing to challenge that we’d make that revision,” McKay said.

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