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NFL Rules Changes Go Out of Bounds

Kavitha A. Davidson is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
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National Football League owners will meet next week in Phoenix and discuss, among other things, 23 proposed rule changes, 19 of which were submitted by individual teams. Many of them stand no chance of approval, but the bulk of them are aimed at improving the league's system of challenges and instant replays. At the very least, the proposals offer an interesting glimpse into the mindset of certain teams.

Take, for instance, the Detroit Lions, who proposed that all penalty calls be reviewable. Most agree this won't pass, but you can't blame the Lions for trying. Back in January, the Lions suffered a brutal playoff loss to the Dallas Cowboys, thanks to a botched pass-interference call. With Detroit leading 20-17 with 8:25 left in the fourth quarter of the NFC wild-card game, an official reversed a pass-interference call on Dallas that would have given the Lions a first down. The Cowboys went on to score 17 unanswered points and advance to the divisional round. A week later, Lions Vice Chairman Bill Ford told a local radio station that he might never get over that non-call.

Meanwhile, the Competition Committee submitted a proposal aimed at curbing a tactic employed by the Super Bowl-champion New England Patriots. Under the proposed rule, an eligible receiver will be allowed to line up in an ineligible position only within the tackle box, otherwise be penalized five yards for illegal formation. Recall that in their AFC divisional round win against the Baltimore Ravens, the Patriots lined up running back Shane Vereen as a slot receiver, using him as an ineligible player. The unconventional -- but legal -- tactic confused the Baltimore defense on a key drive that resulted in a New England touchdown.

After the loss, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh described the formation as "clearly deception" and "a trick type of thing," criticizing the Patriots for not declaring Vereen ineligible sooner and giving Baltimore enough time to identify and cover the eligible receivers. The committee that proposed the rule change is composed of nine league officials, one of whom is Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome. According to St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, another member of the committee, the proposal was necessary to prevent the tactic from getting "out of hand."

If the rules proposed by the Lions and Ravens and Co. speak to a desire to right past wrongs, the one proposed by the Indianapolis Colts might speak to a desire to just... go crazy. The Colts want to allow a team that has successfully completed a two-point conversion to attempt another extra point on a 50-yard kick, which would make a touchdown worth a potential total of nine points. The extra point is seen by some as extraneous -- 99.6 percent of kickers make them -- and has been under scrutiny for awhile now. The league has discussed everything from making the kick longer to getting rid of it.

The Colts might be thinking that their proposal will encourage teams to go for two points more often -- that such a radical change evokes the spirit embodied in Silicon Valley's favorite phrase. But the football establishment is resistant to change, let alone bold, sweeping change, so I'd be surprised if this proposal gets little more than a nod (and maybe some snickers) at next week's meeting.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Kavitha A. Davidson at kdavidson19@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net