Sports Outside the Beltway

NFL Rules Changes 2008

The owner’s meetings have resulted in various minor tweaks to the rules but the two most controversial, requiring players with long hair to keep it tucked under their helmets and allowing wild-card teams with superior records to have home field advantage over a division winner, were not passed.

Competition committee co-chairman Rich McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons, was not surprised about the lack of support for reseeding, in which a wild-card team with a better record than a division winner would play at home in the first playoff round. “This idea we wanted to push this year to get the discussion going,” McKay said. “There were not a lot of hands up, so we withdrew the proposal for now. There is the historical idea that a division champion should have a home game.”

That was exactly why Patriots owner Robert Kraft opposed reseeding. “I do believe if you win a division, it’s good for your fans to know you will have a home game,” Kraft said. “To win a division, there is a reward and we wanted to keep that.”

There also remains concern about late-season games becoming meaningless when teams already have secured their playoff positions. Commissioner Roger Goodell indicated discussions of reseeding are not dead. “The focus I said to the competition committee is what are the alternatives we have to make sure every game is as competitive as possible,” Goodell said. “I think the debate was good.”

While I can see wanting teams to play hard in the closing weeks, giving wild card teams superior seeding just flies in the face of tradition. If you’re going to do that, why not just eliminate divisions — and conferences — altogether and simply pick the teams with the twelve best records?

Among the proposals that were passed:

• A recommendation to eliminate force-out decisions on pass completions near the sidelines. Now, officials will only have to decide whether a receiver landed in bounds or not. The intended result is more consistency.

• The “Phil Dawson field goal rule.”. Now, certain field goals can be reviewed by instant replay, including kicks that bounce off the uprights. Under the previous system, no field goals could be replayed.

• Deferring the opening coin toss. This is similar to the college rule. Previously, the winner of the coin toss could only choose to receive or kick off.

• A direct snap from center that goes backward will now be treated as a fumble. Previously, it was ruled a false start.

• Eliminating the 5-yard face mask penalty. Now, only the serious face mask will be called (and will be assessed as a 15-yard penalty). The major foul will involve twisting or grabbing the face mask.

Those all make sense. The 5-yard face mask is just too much of a judgment call and we wind up with too many ticky-tack calls on it. Frankly, I’d like to eliminate most of the incidental contact and “illegal motion” type penalties, which slow down the game and take it away from the players.

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