Out of Bounds: Fewer rule changes for the NFL

If you play the game of football scared, chances are you will get hurt. Well, football fans, the NFL is playing scared and they are getting hurt as a result.

How many more rule changes will the NFL implement before it becomes a flag football league? The NFL has changed many rules throughout the years and almost all of them have been made in the name of player safety.

Some of these rules include the 1979 rule change known as “The Jack Tatum Effect.” In a 1978 preseason game between the Oakland Raiders and the New England Patriots, pro bowler safety Jack Tatum of the Raiders met Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stringley. Stringley lowered his head into Tatum’s arriving shoulder and was paralyzed. Though the hit was legal, the NFL decided in 1979 that wide receivers could no longer be touched after five yards as to the previous rule of 10 yards.

Although this rule did not drastically change the nature of the game, recent rule changes go beyond the bounds of improving game safety. These rules have turned the game into what is essentially a pillow fight.

The first case: treatment of quarterbacks. The fans, players and coaches realize when a roughing the passer penalty is a justified call. A lot of the time, these quarterbacks get hit merely a second after the ball leaves their hand and the officials are quick to blow the whistle.

The rules also prevent defenders from driving quarterbacks into the ground after they throw. Yes, it can result in an injury, but quarterbacks are professional athletes. Like other football players, quarterbacks reached the professional level for a reason – part of being a quarterback at such a level means not only trying to avoid getting hit, but also being able to bounce back afterwards.

If the defender initially makes contact with the quarterback within the right amount of time as deemed by the referee, there isn’t a reason he shouldn’t be able to bring the quarterback down. These defenders’ instincts – an instinct they’ve been developing since the beginning of their careers – are to tackle the players into the ground. You cannot hold it against them and penalize them for it.

The NFL further protects the quarterback with a 15-yard penalty when he is tackled below the knee. This change seemed necessary after two incidents, the first in 2006. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer tore his anterior cruciate ligament when Pittsburgh Steelers Kimo von Oelhoffen tackled Palmer below the knee. The final straw came in 2008 when Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Bernard Pollard tackled New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady below the knee, tearing Brady’s ACL.

Those were two freak accidents. This is the rule change that leads fans to believe that Brady receives special treatment from the referees. Many fans – including myself – believe the game is becoming too soft.

The new kickoff rule from 2011 is another large problem. The rule used to be that kickoffs would start at the 30-yard line and are now placed at the 35-yard line. This rule was put in place to create less kickoff returns and more touchbacks. The NCAA also moved the kickoff-line back to the 35-yard line for the same reason.

The other rule put in place for kickoffs stipulated that for return teams, the “wedge” – a group of blockers lined up next to each other – could only be two men instead of the classic four-man wedge. These rules combined made it much more difficult for players to complete one of the more exciting plays in football: the kickoff return for a touchdown.

The NFL’s latest fight is to prohibit the block below the waist entirely, a move which could make playing more dangerous for the quarterbacks who the NFL is trying to protect. Without the low block, smaller players will not be able to block the bigger defenders rushing the quarterback.

The NFL continues making more and more rules regarding the safety of the players. If they keep making rules that prohibit players from playing the game the way it is supposed to be played, the quality of the games will diminish. Players will be afraid of fines and penalties, and when you play scared, you get hurt.