Did you know that an average professional football game lasts 3 hours and 8 minutes? But, if you only measured from when the ball is snapped to when the whistle is blown, an average NFL game is remarkably only 11 minutes long!
This statistic sounds ridiculous, right? So the real question is: Why are Americans willing to waste away 3 hours of their precious Sunday for only 11 minutes of viewing pleasure? These heart pounding action packed games make us want to come back for more and more. However, since the signing of the new NFL Player’s Union Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2011, there have been many questionable changes associated with player safety, training guidelines, and rules of the game. Many critics, including myself, feel that some of these regulations are softening the spirit of the game and may have a permanent negative effect on the future popularity of the sport.
First, let’s take a look at some of the increasing penalties over the past 5 years:
3167 penalty calls in regular season 2009
3470 penalty calls in regular season 2014
Overall = 9 % increase
4.63 Unnecessary Roughness penalties per team in regular season 2009
7.09 Unnecessary Roughness penalties per team in regular season 2013
Overall = 34% increase as of last year
69 Roughing the passer penalties in regular season 2009
97 Roughing the passer penalties in regular season 2014.
Overall = 29% increase
5.94 Defensive pass interference penalties per team in regular season 2009
6.56 Defensive pass interference penalties per team in regular season 2014
Overall = 9% increase
The next controversial topic that is altering the game we love is the tightening of player protection guidelines. Some of these are real head-scratchers.
- A player may no longer lower the crown of his helmet in the process of being tackled.
- Moving the kickoffs 5 yards forward. Thus, creating more touchbacks and avoiding massive collisions.
- Hitting a defenseless receiver
Of these three, it’s the first that I have the biggest problem. Back when the 85′ Bears dominated the NFL, Walter Payton’s signature move was barreling over his opponents with his body, stiff-arm, and yes, often his head. I think it’s ridiculous to ask a running back to reduce his power, speed, and forward progress when his opponent is undoubtedly hell-bent on destroying him. He’s a sitting duck… Like a high school drivers ed instructor on the expressway with a malfunctioning brake pedal.
I also question hitting a defenseless receiver. Here’s the rule:
“A receiver attempting to catch a pass; or who has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a runner. If the receiver/runner is capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact of an opponent, he is no longer a defenseless player” That sounds a lot like flag football to me…oh wait, they are on their way to actually becoming flag football.
The last change I want to discuss is the NFL players union setting stricter guidelines on practices.
I actually laughed out loud when I read the specific bylaws of the collective bargaining agreement. Allow me to paraphrase a few of the new restrictions…
During the regular season, padded practices (helmet and shoulder pads) for all players shall be limited to a total of fourteen games.
In addition, players shall be limited to a maximum of three hours practice per day. Players may participate in on-field activities with their position coaches for a period not to exceed thirty minutes, prior to the three-hour maximum on-field period; and any walkthrough to be no helmets and walking pace.
Are you serious? What if you are preparing to face Tom Brady next week and the team practice runs a little longer than expected? Can a player just walk off the field and say: “sorry coach, your times up”? What if a position coach asks you to put your helmet on for a quick one-on-one drill before practice starts? Can you just say: “nope, I would prefer not to wear my helmet today because it’s more comfortable”?
I understand the NFL is taking the proper precautions and strictly enforcing these new rules for player safety. But, I believe the more accurate reason is due to the expensive and incredibly embarrassing lawsuit they recently settled last year when the NFL forked out $765 million dollars over concussion-related brain injuries among its 18,000 retired players/families agreeing to compensate victims, pay for medical exams and brain research.
Sure, maybe the TV ratings and advertisements are at an all-time high right now, but sooner or later, I think the fans are going to react and ticket sales will be affected. In the end, you can’t sugar coat it. Football is a violent, aggressive, and dangerous sport. But no one forces you to play it and you have the choice and make the decision to play the game knowing all the risks associated. We need to let the players play. Let the coaches coach. And let the viewers decide to watch it or change the channel.