We spend a lot of time arguing about whether referees got calls “right,” but what’s often overlooked is that rules are arbitrary and subject to change. Baseball batters used to be able to call for “high,” “low,” or “fair” pitches; the forward pass was once banned in football; the three-point line in basketball didn’t used to exist. Those are major rule changes, but it’s amazing how much comes down to fine distinctions, especially in the replay-happy NFL: Are both of the receiver’s feet in-bounds? Is his knee touching the ground? Was the quarterback outside the pocket? Was his arm coming forward? Sure these rules are essential to making our game worth the emotional investment—we want our calls to be CORRECT, dammit—but you can’t help but feel it’s all a bit silly, especially when you’re yelling “He never had control of the ball!” at the TV when you are by yourself.
The NFL has been amenable to tweaking its rules over the past few decades—most of these changes have been minor and have to do with pre-snap ball placement and downfield contact between receivers and defensive backs and so on, but the end result has been to increase scoring dramatically. And they have been making further rule revisions to do something about the horrific on-field violence and head injuries, so it seems that they would be open to changing the game even more. As with literally every single thing you can have an opinion on, plenty of kids on the internet are willing to chip in their two cents on what new rules the NFL should have. Go to any football forum in the universe and you will eventually see some radical, game-altering premise being kicked around by a few people who probably should be writing a term paper or something. Just for fun, I recently went on 4chan’s sports forum and asked what they would change about the NFL—the thread is long dead, but here are the five most radical, compelling, and totally unrealistic suggestions that came back to me.
Replace the sidelines with walls
You know Arena Football? It’s the sport they play at your city’s second-string sports venue, or in towns that aren’t fortunate enough to have an NFL franchise. It’s like normal football except it’s played by people who couldn’t make it to the NFL in depressing towns like Spokane. Instead of having out of bounds, Arena Football just has walls bordering the edges of the turf. This means ballcarriers are routinely brutally slammed against the barriers to the bloody jeers of the people who spend money to watch Arena Football. It’s the sort of thing Roman emperors used to do with starved lions and Christians, which doesn’t make it that much different than the NFL. Unfortunately Roger Goodell is not Julius Caesar, so we will never get to see what it’s like when an NFL reciever has literally no hope of escape from the 275-pound linebacker trying to decapitate him. We’ll also never get to see Darren Sproles wall-running over defenders—Jesus, imagine how cool that would look in slow motion.
Get rid of field goals and kickers
For a game that features the most athletic dudes on earth outrunning each other and throwing each other into the turf, NFL games often come down to the least football player-like person on the team kicking the ball a long way. Field goals never really feel satisfying, because they usually mean you failed to get a touchdown, and you have to wheel out a diminutive European dude to earn a disappointing three points. The field goal kicker is like the harbinger of mediocrity, and his skills are totally different from all the other players’ so why not get rid of field goals altogether and make teams do two-point conversions all the time, or just eliminate extra points all together? If you want to win the game in the last two minutes you need to actually score a real point, not some bullshit kick. I think we can all agree that a player with such a minor role shouldn’t have to deal with all that ridiculous world-carrying pressure. I still feel sorry for this kid.
Get rid of hashmarks, spot the ball where it’s downed
Let’s say a ball-carrier is tackled a few inches from the left out-of-bounds borders. Usually the refs would simply place the ball in between the hashmarks. But with this proposed rule change, the quarterback would have to snap the ball behind the numbers, on the radical left or right side of the field, with no space on one side of him. Out of all of the proposed innovations suggested, this seems the most radical. Just imagine how this would change the game’s core principles. You’d have all these formations and plays designed for plays that start near the sidelines, not just the middle of the field.
Touchdowns score points on a sliding scale according to their length
In the NFL’s current form, this Marshawn Lynch run…
…is worth exactly as many points as John Kuhn falling forward:
But what if instead a 99-yard touchdown pass was treated like a grand slam, while a one-yard punch-in was more like a single? What if the impressiveness of the highlight was reflected on the actual scoreboard, like making slam dunks worth 30 points in basketball? It would totally destroy the notion of a long, deliberate, clock-eating drive and severely diminish the role of the running back, but is that necessarily a bad thing? Screw tradition and the integrity of the game and whatnot, I want to see more long bombs.
Have all controversial, game-changing calls be determined by an elite panel of referees
I like this idea because the phrase “elite panel of referees” makes me think of Ed Hochuli wearing a long black robe, but especially in light of the Seattle/Green Bay Monday Night Football fiasco, it seems pretty surprising that we’re not doing this already. No matter how good they might be, referees will occasionally blow it, and you think they’d be the first people advocating for some sort of face-saving safety net. Obviously there’d be some logistical issues, but getting the right call should always be emphasized over any fallout or on-field authority. Maybe you could delay games for days while the NFL Supreme Court views tapes and hears arguments and counter-arguments from the head coaches? Wouldn’t that be fun?