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Silverman: Goodell’s Rule Intrusions Are Root Of NFL’s Officiating Issues

Referee John Parry #132 holds a meeting with other officials during a game between the St. Louis Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Edward Jones Dome on December 22, 2013. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Referee John Parry #132 holds a meeting with other officials during a game between the St. Louis Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Edward Jones Dome on December 22, 2013. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

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By Steve Silverman
» More Columns

Roger Goodell loves to tinker with the NFL.

He leads the most successful sports league in the world and its business model is remarkably successful. The league is making billions of dollars from television, exorbitant ticket prices and merchandising.

Goodell has plenty to keep him occupied. In addition to the next television deal, Goodell and the NFL have major concerns about the health of former and current players. A proposed $765 million concussion settlement may not be enough, according to a federal judge, and the NFL may have to pony up quite a bit more if it wants to avoid a potentially embarrassing trial brought by the NFL Players Association.

But even with these issues on his plate, Goodell likes to tinker with the rules. Perhaps you’ve heard the latest proposal. Goodell thinks the extra point is boring, so he has floated the idea of making touchdowns worth seven points. There’s no longer a reason to kick the extra points. If a team wants to run or pass, it can get an eighth point. However, if it fails in its attempt, the touchdown will be worth only six points.

But that’s optional. A team can eschew the extra point altogether and leave seven points on the scoreboard.

You may remember that New England head coach Bill Belichick pointed out last month that the point after the touchdown has become too automatic. Now, Goodell has picked up the ball and run with it.

While it’s not likely the competition committee will act quickly on this proposal this offseason, it certainly will come up for debate.

And therein lies the problem. Why does Goodell feel a need to change NFL rules all the time? Is the league not successful enough? Is there something wrong with the basics of the game? Are fans turning back their season tickets or turning off their televisions?

There are other things that Goodell needs to be concerned about. Start with the quality of the officiating.

You may have noticed that there were quite a few complaints about officiating this season. In last week’s NFC Championship Game, 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman appeared to recover a fumble prior to suffering a horrific knee injury in the fourth quarter. However, none of the officials recognized that Bowman had the ball and the Seahawks maintained possession of the ball. The vagaries of the rules prevented Jim Harbaugh from even challenging the incorrect judgment.

Every time the rules change, it makes it more difficult for the officials to do their job. Memos go out on rule changes and officials are expected to incorporate those changes to the way they call games. However, when you have been a high-level game official for 10 years or more, you are a creature of habit and it’s not that simple.

The NFL is always changing its rules. Last year, the NFL instituted a rule that made it illegal for any player to hit with the crown of the helmet. This was already illegal, but the NFL included ball carriers who attempted to use their helmet to bowl over a tackler.

The NFL also made it illegal for a defensive team to line up with more than six players on either side of the line of scrimmage when attempting to block a kick.

It also revoked the tuck rule, forced players to wear thigh and knee pads, changed the procedure when a coach throws an illegal challenge flag and outlawed peel-back blocks.

That’s six rule changes that were implemented prior to the 2013 season, and many more rule changes have been implemented in previous years.

In addition to making little sense, the league makes it harder for officials to do a decent job of adjudicating games. No matter how definitive Ed Hochuli sounds when announcing a penalty, he continues to make head-slapping mistakes, and so do nearly all of the league’s other top referees.

So, Roger, fix your problems. Attend to retired players and the next TV contract.

But leave the rules alone for the next five years.

You’ve caused enough problems already.

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