Way Past Time to Simplify Pro Sports for Officials and Fans

Watching the NFL post season has only reminded me of something I have complained about for some time.  Why do NFL rules need to be so complicated?  And why can’t they be simplified for players, coaches as well as fans? Why do they have to change them every year is yet another complaint.  No sport has more year to year changes than football.

Lets be honest have you not watched a game and been mystified about a rule interpretation?  Did you not ever wonder what the thinking was that went into that rule?  The officials know the rules and interpret them as written.  But did enough thinking go into them in the first place?

Now, some of the more recent rules to make the game safer for players are one thing.  Like a certain medical plan in the news the concept is admirable, but the actual process of implementing it has a lot to be desired.

In football, for instance, the officials seemingly have no leeway to rule based on intent.  Not all helmet to helmet contacts are equal.  A large number of them are purely incidental, but if contact is made a penalty flag is thrown.  In basketball it is the same with some forms of contact around the head and neck.  Not matter how it happened a whistle blows.  Again, keeping players safer is admirable, but every action cannot be automatically a violation.

One of the best NBA officials of all time was the late Earl Strom.  He officiated mostly using the rules as written, but added common sense to his calls.  That resulted in officiating that enraged college fans because Earl’s main goal was to keep the game moving and not to blow whistles at every violation that in his opinion did not change the play.  College fans were used to officials blowing whistles on every play whether it affected the actual game on the court or not.  Earl would ignore some things.  However, if a team or player started taking advantage of his largesse he would rectify that.  He would do it first by telling the players to knock it off.  If they didn’t his whistle would blow.

The NFL (and college basketball) needs more of that.  Every violation does not affect the play.  The game is a show for the fans who are watching.  Keep it moving.  College basketball started enforcing hand check rules this year.  When the season began games became free throw shooting contests.  Too many fouls off the ball that did not have a direct affect on play were being called.  It was a joke.  Fortunately, it can be noted the officials have backed off a bit.  Aggressive clean play is being allowed much more.

The NFL needs to take note.  In addition to allowing the officials to determine if helmet to helmet hits appear intentional or incidental would be a start.  Then waiting until a play is run to determine if some violations aided one team or another before throwing a flag or not would help.

And for goodness sake NFL change the pass catching rule.  One foot in bounds as in HS and college should be a change for 2014.  You want action and scoring and great catches?  There is the answer.  But better yet it makes the officials job much easier and there would be fewer reasons for time consuming replays. I am all for making the officials job easier not more difficult.  The games move better and the players know what to expect.

Baseball has had far fewer changes despite its much longer history that football or basketball.  But there will be one in professional baseball in 2014 that I highly approve–as long as the umpires are given some leeway to use common sense.  The new rule ends the tradition of catchers blocking home plate and the ensuing collision with base runners.  In college and high school baseball nearly any contact on the bases will result in ejection of someone.  That is too strict.  Sometimes the arrival of the ball and the runner results in un-intended contact.  Umpires must be given leeway to decide between incidental contact and intentional contact.  The same should apply in all sports.  Sadly, it doesn’t.

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About gregclucas

Author, "Baseball-Its More Than a Game" available through Amazon.com, BN.com or by order. Veteran sportscaster with extensive play by play experience in MLB, NBA and college sports. "Houston to Cooperstown- The Houston Astros' Biggio & Bagwell Years" is available at many Barnes and Noble stores, Costco, Sam's Club and other selected locations. Also can be ordered through Amazon as hard copy of Kindle.
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