In the competitive world of sports, the NFL is always looking for ways to improve the game. Whether it is rules to protect the players and keep them on the field or ways to improve the excitement of the game to keep fans glued to their televisions, there are always things that the owners and rules committees look to change for the good of the game. While change is often good, there are many rules and things that the NFL might consider changing that they should leave alone.
The NFL has been a leader of sorts for instituting replay that works, elevating its player draft to new levels and making its championship game one of the most popular annual sporting events. At this point, many of the improvements that the league is trying to make seem to be less about improving the way the game is played and more about responding to criticisms about the game itself. People have become bored with the extra point, yet a good amount of advertising revenue is generated during this period that follows every touchdown that is scored. Some fans wonder why it is so hard to keep their team together following a Super Bowl win, but the salary cap is there to give hope to fans whose teams didn’t fare so well. The playoffs let the perfect amount of teams into the postseason and the 16-game season ensures that every game counts. It has become harder to see things that the NFL really needs to change.
The following list represents 10 things the NFL doesn’t need to change. For some of these things, the urge to make change will be hard to resist. The extra point, for example, has already been changed, moving the ball to the 15 yard line. There are more rules and aspects of the game that owners and league executives want to change, but the game seems fine as it is. Change can be good, but the NFL, at least on the field, is far from broken and really doesn’t need a fix.
10. The Kickoff Return
The NFL has tried hard to eliminate kickoff returns without changing the way teams exchange possession following a score, but nothing they have tried has been able to ensure player safety. Unless they do away with the kickoff altogether, there is no reason to make any further changes. Since moving the kickoff back to the 35-yard line and eliminating the 5-man wedge block, there have been more touchbacks. On the other hand, many returners have elected to take a chance with returning the kick despite starting deep in their own end zone. For teams willing to accept the risk, it can still be worthwhile to go for the return. In 2014, the top 11 kickoff returners averaged over 25 yards per return with two returns for touchdowns. All the touchbacks have eliminated some of the injuries on special teams, but enough excitement is still generated by players electing to go for the return. Until kickers manage to routinely boot the ball out of the back of the end zone, there is no need to consider further rule changes.
9. The 45-Man Roster
The NFL’s 45-man roster is the perfect size for the sport. Since teams have the ability to use injured reserve and the NFL has practice squads to keep players in reserve, the roster’s real effect is to make sure every player on the active roster is ready to step in and play one of the positions on the field. The roster is too small to allow teams to stock up on specialists for particular plays and many teams have to make hard decisions about how many skill players to keep on the roster. Fans might grimace when the injury bug hits the offensive or defensive line, but that is the risk of keeping an extra receiver or running back. There are still specialists in the NFL, but the threat of injuries to other players makes it hard to keep them on the active roster. Kick returners might be starting wide receivers, running backs or members of the secondary. Even long-snappers have to be able to tackle or fill in on the offensive line.
8. The Extra Point
The extra point is going to be changed, but it will probably do very little to change the success rate. Since it is only worth a single point, it has always seemed like a reward for getting a touchdown as opposed to a challenge to get one extra point. The problem with changing it has more to do with tradition and what might be next. Changing the extra point will be a major change to the game that will not have a profound effect on the success rate. Field goals are now hit at a rate that rivals some of the NBA’s best free throw shooters. Will a change to kicking field goals be next?
Since it has become commonplace for today’s kickers to kick field goals from beyond 50 yards, will that be the next thing to consider? Given time, coaches like Philadelphia’s Chip Kelly would have eventually added more excitement to the extra point by making the two point conversion more of a threat. Moving the kick back will not add any extra excitement or challenge to making an extra point.
7. The Salary Cap
The NFL salary cap is the perfect example for all the other sports. It starts with capping rookie salaries, forcing them to prove themselves before getting fat contracts, and limits the amount teams are willing to pay for veterans who end up playing too long. The cap goes a long way towards breaking up dynasties and allowing other teams to have a chance. Once a team wins a Super Bowl, it becomes hard to keep all 22 starting players intact. In the NFL, there is such a good balance between paying big bucks to keep proven veterans versus paying less money to take a risk going with younger players.
The better teams do their homework to draft players to fill their needs, surrounding them with veterans who know how to win. Good players end up getting cut in order to shore up other positions on the roster where there might be greater need. There is still enough of a free-market economy, but teams have to make choices and responsible spending is the only way to achieve success.
6. The Draft
The NFL Draft has become an event worth weeks of build up and intense television coverage once it starts, and the most anticipated draft in sports is the most logical one as well. There are no gimmicks or bouncing balls, and the teams are placed in logical order according to their records and overwhelming needs. Players even know how much they stand to make, depending on their position in the draft. Thanks to the fact that there are 22 starting positions on each team, there is always an element of surprise and drama as team representatives step up to the podium to make their pick.
The NFL even has the best Draft Combine in sports, where players get to show their raw talent in the hopes that they will measure up to their peers. For fans of teams that don’t make it into the playoffs, the NFL Draft is a highly anticipated event. It even manages to capture the emotional uplifting moments when family members full of pride mob a drafted player, with it all caught on TV.
5. The Super Bowl
The Super Bowl has been so much more than a championship game. This one game has done more to bring the NFL game to the masses than any other event in the history of the game. From the halftime show to the fan fest leading up to the game, the choreography of the events surrounding the Super Bowl help act to market the NFL game. Almost every person in the world now knows about the Super Bowl, and in countries throughout the world the game is now on display. Even some of the most popular entertainers the world has to offer now feel honored to be invited to perform during halftime of the game. Tickets for the game have become some of the most sought after tickets to any entertainment event. The brainchild of Lamar Hunt that dates back to 1966 has now become arguably the biggest event in sports. Although the NFL has opened it up to cold-weather cities, there is nothing more that needs to be changed.
4. The 16-Game Season
Football is plagued with injuries each and every year and making the season longer will only add to the amount of players on injured reserve. The athletes are bigger, stronger and faster, so playing more games will simply make it harder for players to have longer careers. As it is, the running back has become an interchangeable part and receivers are starting to follow suit, but what happens when quarterbacks struggle to make it through a longer season? The quality of play will suffer to the point where fans will stop caring about getting a chance to see two extra games. In a quarterback driven league, there are still not enough capable backups to compensate for the amount of injuries occurring to quarterbacks each season. With an 18 game season, the situation will only get worse. There might even be a time when backup quarterbacks have to play in just about every NFL game.
3. Instant Replay
Although instant replay in the NFL has had its share of problems, it has now become an integral part of every game. From determining possession on fumbles, taking a closer look at a receiver’s feet to see if they didn’t come down out of bounds, to getting a closer look to see if a player crosses the goal line, the instant replay has been a useful tool in making sure officials don’t make huge mistakes that decide the outcome of games. The NFL initially took its abuse from fans due to the lengthy disruptions and lack of effectiveness in getting calls changed, but improvements have made it the model for all the other sports. From the limitation on challenges to the use of a replay command center in New York, the NFL has really made good strides in perfecting the replay process. Thanks in large part to instant replay, officiating in general has improved with fewer controversies to report.
2. The Vacancy in Los Angeles
Although the Los Angeles media market is huge, the NFL would be smart to never put a team in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Los Angeles has helped the NFL in so many ways without having a team, that finally putting one there might slow the development of all the new stadiums that has only added value to the product and teams. The threat of relocation has made many NFL cities scramble to come up to the plate and modernize existing facilities, which in turn has only allowed the media to focus more attention on the sport enhancing its importance in our society. This has been a boon to the growth and status of the NFL. Los Angeles has already failed to keep three teams in its vicinity (Chargers, Rams, Raiders), and most Los Angeles residents are already hardcore fans of other teams. There is really no need to build a fancy stadium and hurt other cities in order to force feed the product to fair apathetic Los Angeles football fans.
1. The Playoff Format
The NFL has some issues with seeding divisional champions, but it still allows the perfect amount of teams into the postseason. Teams really have to have a successful season in order to make the NFL playoffs, adding extra importance to each of its regular season games. Expanding the playoffs to include more teams might add more games and revenue for the NFL, but it is hard to change something that is already so right. It gives lots of meaning to each and every game during the season and adds some drama in the final two weeks of the season as teams make a push to get into the postseason. Adding more games to the playoffs will not really hurt the players so much, but it will take away the first round bye that is now in effect for two teams in each conference that earn the opportunity to rest an extra week. In the NFL, successful regular seasons are rewarded, top seeds get a much easier path to the big game and the postseason is the envy of all other sports.
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