Thanks to Bill Smith for the up to date reporting on these rule changes. Bill works in Lafayette, Louisiana for a very successful maritime law practice handling injury cases on the waterfront and on rigs & vessels plying the surrounding waterways. He’s an avid Saints fan, but that plays no role in either his maritime legal practice or his accurate reporting on the NFL.
The following rule changes were passed at the league’s annual owners meeting in March:
Crackdown on illegal hits
After several violent hits throughout the NFL made the news in Week 3, the league announced that it would consider suspending players for illegal hits, such as helmet – to – helmet hits or other blows to the head. (Previously, players could only be fined for such hits.) The league also instructed all officials and referees to have an even higher level of attention toward flagrant hits. Game officials were also instructed to err on the side of safety, and throw flags even when in doubt.
The crackdown has been controversial. Many defensive players have complained that the league is being too strict in their interpretation of what constitutes an “illegal hit”, and that it forces them to behave significantly different than how they were taught to play the game. Another concern is the league’s instructions to game officials to err on the side of caution, since questionable calls late in close games significantly affect their outcome. However, the medical community has supported the move, believing that it would help reduce concussions and other head injuries.
The league did not end up suspending any players for violent or illegal hits, however several players were fined for these types of hits within the first few weeks of the crackdown.
The overtime procedure for postseason games has changed. Instead of a straight sudden death, the game will not immediately end if the team that wins the coin toss and chooses to receive only scores a field goal on its first possession (they can still win the game if they score a touchdown). Instead, the other team gets a possession. If the coin toss loser then scores a touchdown, it is declared the winner. If the score is tied after both teams had a possession whether the coin toss loser scored a field goal to tie it or punted it away, then it goes back to sudden death. These changes were passed in response to recent statistics that show that since 1994, teams that win the coin toss have won overtime 59.8 percent of the time, and won 34.4 percent of the time on the first possession on a field goal. This included the 2009 NFC Championship Game between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints where the Saints won the overtime coin toss and scored a field goal on their first possession to win the game. In May, the league decided against applying these overtime rule changes to regular season games as well. As all of the 2010 – 2011 playoff games ended in regulation for the first time since 2005 – 2006, the new rule was not tested during its first year of use.
The first game that would use this rule was a 2011 – 12 playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Denver Broncos. Anyone watching the game on TV or actually being there, know that this was a memorable game. I was there with a few friends and the atmosphere was electric when it became evident that they would be going into overtime. As we were waiting for the overtime to begin, I received a text from a friend. “DO you know anything about personal std test kits? Don’t want to go to the doctor if I really don’t have to.” Well, I really didn’t want to miss the start of overtime, so I did a quick google search on my phone and found a great website offering home STD and STI testing. Apparently there are home kits to test for STIs where you can get results in about 15 minutes and the accuracy for the test was between 95% to 97%. Purchasing seemed easy and shipping would be discreet. I didn’t bother looking further. I texted back the website’s url, suggested he do some additional research. and wished him good luck. I looked up just in time to see the Broncos score with a winning touchdown on the first play from scrimmage of the overtime period.
The definition of a “defenseless receiver” (where a receiver cannot be hit in the head or neck area by an opponent who launches himself and makes contact with his helmet, shoulder, or forearm) will now apply to every defenseless player.
A play will now immediately be whistled dead once a ball carrier’s helmet is knocked off.