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Published:March 27th, 2009 13:22 EST
11 Policy Changes: Will Football Look A Lot Less Like A Sadist's Pastime?

11 Policy Changes: Will Football Look A Lot Less Like A Sadist's Pastime?

By Christopher HIllenbrand

Beginning on Tuesday, the NFL cooperated with league owners to right some of the inequalities in the rule books. Five new safety-focused rules came out of the conferences on Tuesday while another six, what I call "no-brainer", guidelines that were introduced on Wednesday concern overall gameplay. Though a fair amount of criticism has dogged the new codes of conduct, the NFL has demonstrated that it stays ahead of the pack by addressing the newest, most relevant issues within its sport: which is more than I can say for most professional sports.

The five safety policies incepted (or as the league has pointed out: four safety policies and a "clarification" for the future) are by and large receiving the most controversy. In an attempt to bring physical injuries on the field down, these five are primarily aimed at cutting aggressive physical contact, which as opponents argue, is what the game is all about.

"Forming a wedge on a kickoff return is no longer legal. If three or more players line up shoulder-to-shoulder within two yards of each other, it will be a penalty:" as dictated by the NFL. During the course of the game, players on the special teams squad receiving the kickoff normally would line up four men in a `wedge` to protect the kick returner. Their sole objective is to stay unified and plow through any opposing players, hoping to open a running lane for the returner. While, at the same time, the kicking team sends defenders down field with the intention of either mowing either the receiver or members in the wedge down. Newton`s third law of motion clearly describes that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and with two gargantuan forces striking at full speed, there`s bound to be catastophic consequences now and again. But as Kevin Everett, former Bills` tight end, would testify, a little more restraint might`ve prevented he and Broncos` kickoff returner Domenik Hixon`s helmet to helmet collision which ended his pro career and almost his life.

"On onside kicks, the kicking team can`t have more than five players bunched together." Anyone watching a game in which one team uses an onside kick can see that the receiver almost always never sees the blitzkrieg of seven or more men, typically, coming straight for him. And as the number of kick returners being carted away on a stretcher went up, so did the team owners` concerns about the sport`s practice. Luckily, the balance is distributed a little more fairly on both sides, though it still is not ideal.

One `no-brainer` clause (and if you need to be educated on the matter, then perhaps a Junior High completion certificate is what you should be reconsidering) is the rule: "A blindside block cannot be delivered with a helmet, shoulder or forearm to an opponent`s head or neck. That`ll be a 15-yard penalty."

The fourth safety point is also an overdue call from simple common sense: "Contact to the head of a defenseless receiver will also draw a 15-yard penalty."

The last of the guidelines strictly installed for players` benefits is: "A defensive player on the ground may no longer lunge or dive at the quarterback`s lower legs." The list of quarterbacks affected by that liberty is endless, but when the Patriots` golden boy Tom Brady was sidelined for all of the 2008 season, the danger was made all the more public. Personally, I would be all for it if another integral part to a team`s offense, say the running back, also didn`t face the same risks. Even on lateral pass plays, defenders along the line of scrimmage can grasp onto the receivers. It raises the question on how extenuating circumstances towards them will require more policies to be negotiated upon in the near future.

The final six policy changes to the NFL`s rule books came as a result of many of the past inconsistencies with officiating and rules now compliant with the sport`s technological advances.

No other rule is as inextricably linked to a ref than "Loose balls that could have been the result of a fumble or an incomplete pass are now subject to video review". And that distinction belongs to no other than Ed Hochuli: figurehead in the botched call in the second-to-last regular season matchup between the San Diego Chargers and the Denver Broncos. In the final minute of play, the Broncos were knocking at the Charger`s door with possession at the one-yard line. Broncos` quarterback (for the time being anyway) Jay Cutler dropped back for a play action pass when the ball slipped from between his fingers. Before any Bronco could regain ball possession, Chargers` linebacker Tim Dobbins jumped on the ball. Hochuli blew the whistle immediately and ruled the play an incomplete pass. The ensuing video replay clearly showed that it was a cut-and-dry fumble and should`ve belonged to San Diego, but since the official had blown the play dead, the ball was returned to Denver where it landed at the ten-yard line. Cutler went on to engineer a harrowing touchdown pass followed by a two-point conversion which won the game for the Broncos 39-38. Since even one of the greatest referees of the game is now pigeon-holed as a errant game caller (see Bill Buckner, as the Red Sox` favorite scapegoat), the league has obviously taken this possible human error out of the equation.

"Video replay can be used to determine if a loose ball stayed in bounds or hit the sideline." Yet again, we find this past year`s bonehead decisions paying off in an unlikely arena. During the NFC championship game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals, the refs called an Arizona kickoff out of bounds, when replays showed the ball missed the sideline by a margin detectable to the naked eye. As ruled, Philadelphia had control of the ball at their 27-yard line. But without the erroneous decision, Arizona would`ve taken back the ball back in great field position. Like the last judgment call by the league, human error can now be overturned with the aid of video replay.

While the previous two have only become solutions to recently revealed problems, the next two will make you scratch your head and ask youself why exactly it took so long for them to become standard.

"No more rekicks after an illegal onsides kick (someone on the kicking team touches the ball before it travels the necessary ten yards, etc.). It immediately becomes the other team`s ball." It`s pretty self-explanatory, although the high-paid team executives and those in the NFL front offices needed a little remedial education on its significance. What else can I say: some of them are former coaches who were players, and I already talked about the injuries incurred in the sport...

"The draft order has been reworked to reflect playoff results, not regular-seaon results." Many people have legitimate beefs with this rule, considering the most recent instance where this may seem unfair. While the Indianapolis Colts went 12-4 in the 2008 regular season and the San Diego Chargers 8-8, the Chargers have the advantage going into the draft since they upset the favored Colts in the postseason. One can argue that one game`s decision can`t possibly make one team better than another, even if it is the AFC Conference matchup. To make the rule unilateral in fairness, the league should institute conditions that might serve a team better especially when the Colts received the short end of atrocious foul calling in that loss.

Rules ten and eleven: "There`s a new waiver period during the first two weeks of training camp, and the postseason waiver period will begin after the NFL`s final game, whether it`s the Pro Bowl or the Super Bowl" and "If a fumble or lateral goes out of bounds, the clock will stop only until the referee signals ready for play" are guidelines directed towards the Players` Union and general gameplay so I`ll leave those to your own curiosity.

No matter what outcomes hinge on these policies, the game itself will stay the same. Like those subjecting themselves to the pastime of great physical trauma for top dollar, people will subject their television screens and eyes to the gritty, rough and tumble, horse-collaring game of titans. If these deter players from pummeling their opponents into paralysis one way, you can put your chips "all in" to bet that they will find ways to stop their adversaries in some of the most brutal and mind-blowing ways they can conceive. And as you`ll say: "players` safety is our top concern", you`ll be the first to stand and cheer at the first sign of blood on the field. Cuz after all, even I will admit that sadism is a guilty pleasure of mine once Sunday Gametime brings autumn along for the ride.