On Super Bowl weekend, the last thing Vegas gamblers want to hear about is fixing. But the rest of us should consider what ails the National Football League, and think about ways to set it right.
First, what cannot be fixed: the lack of action.
The Wall Street Journal recently broke down some NFL games and found that there are only about 11 minutes of actual game action. That’s compared to 67 minutes of “players standing around” and about an hour of ads -- most of which are loud and/or annoying, and many of which we paid for ourselves. We’re talking to you, Howie Long.
But fans already knew there were too many ads. That’s one reason it’s nicknamed the “No Fun League.” If you’re willing to record a game and watch it later, you can view it in less than an hour, without missing a snap. This isn’t going to change as long as advertisers are lining up to throw money at the networks carrying NFL games.
So what should be fixed? First, replay must go.
In years past, the NFL was occasionally victimized by incorrect calls. To cite just one high-profile example, officials ruled Mike Renfro was out of bounds in the 1980 AFC Championship game, when in fact he’d made a catch that should have tied the game. His Houston Oilers went on to lose.
The NFL eventually responded by allowing coaches to “appeal” two calls per game by tossing a red beanbag on to the field. Usually, by the time the coach throws his challenge flag, TV viewers have already enjoyed several looks at the controversial call. (The Journal report adds that 17 minutes of each NFL broadcast are devoted to replays.)
Some of the plays are clearly incorrect, but virtually all are judgment calls. Many remain touch-and-go, even with high-def cameras and slow motion/freeze capabilities. All too often, it’s simply impossible to judge a three-dimensional game based on a two-dimensional replay. That’s what officials are out on the field for.
Replay was introduced to, supposedly, prevent errors. But it doesn’t. It’s changed the game, since officials naturally hold off on making certain calls, knowing they’ll be reviewed by replay, anyway. But there are still errors.
To wit: “The league acknowledged Monday that referee Pete Morelli erred when he overturned on replay [Troy] Polamalu’s interception of a Peyton Manning pass Sunday in the playoff game between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis,” the AP reported four years ago.
Want a more recent example? “The NFL acknowledged that the officials missed a roughing-the-passer penalty against the New Orleans Saints on the play during Sunday’s NFC title game on which Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre was injured,” The Washington Post explained after this season’s NFC Championship game. “We just missed it,” the NFL’s vice president of officiating told reporters.
And you know what? That’s going to happen.
Conservatives understand that people will make mistakes. Receivers will drop perfectly thrown passes. Running backs will fumble in the open field. Officials will miss a call now and again. Liberals may believe it’s possible to call a game perfectly if we get just the right amount of oversight. For similar reasons, they also believe the government ought to provide everybody’s health care.
Conservatives recognize that people will make mistakes, but that the best place to decide a game is on the field, not in the replay booth.
The other fix should be easier to implement. The NFL goes out of its way to protect quarterbacks. For example, it allows them to throw the ball away if they’re “outside the tackle box.” In the real world, QBs are almost never called for “intentional grounding,” when they throw the ball away to avoid being sacked.
This supposedly protects quarterbacks, but it actually punishes defenses when they’ve done their job exceptionally well. Either through excellent coverage or a daring blitz, they’ve managed to put someone in position to bring the QB down for a loss. Instead, he’s allowed to throw the ball away, avoiding the hit (fine -- nobody wants to see him get injured) but also avoiding the loss of yardage that should come from the defense’s sack.
Let’s split the difference. Sure, let him toss the ball out of bounds. But enforce the grounding penalty by moving the line of scrimmage back to where he threw it from. Conservatives support equality of opportunity, rather than demanding equality of outcome. Actually enforcing the grounding penalty would give the defense the same opportunity to make a big play that the QB enjoys every time he drops back.
The NFL did the right thing by moving its Pro Bowl to the week before the Super Bowl, instead of the week after. It also should move the big game to Saturday night instead of Sunday, so younger viewers can stay up and watch.
Enjoy the game, and the ads. And remember: a more conservative game would actually be more fun to watch.