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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

"Pace of Game" Changes Make Sense

The NFL will discuss a number of procedural changes to improve the flow of NFL games and reduce the number of interruptions, including a centralized replay review system.

Photos of the Buccaneers' complete roster.

The National Football League is an enormous entertainment industry, and it tweaks its presentation on an annual basis. Sometimes it's rule revisions (e.g. changing overtime procedures), sometimes it's a matter of product saturation (e.g. putting games on Thursday night) and sometimes it's a fundamental change to the game process (e.g. introducing replay review).

Sometimes these alterations are a success, and sometimes they lead to further tweaking. The new kickoff touchback rule, for instance, may soon fall into that latter category if it continues to produce results opposite of its intention.

On Wednesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to fans about proposed "pace of game" changes that will be discussed at next week's league meetings in Phoenix. The proposals are a response to feedback from fans regarding the NFL viewing experience. Specifically, the league wants to minimize "unnecessary disruptions to the game on the field" and improve the "flow" of the action.

These changes – assuming they are approved en masse or for the most part – will fall into the former category above. They'll work and improve the fan experience because they are all essentially common sense.

Goodell essentially nods to this idea near the end of his letter when he says, "For example, we know how annoying it is when we come back from a commercial break, kick off, and then cut to a commercial again. I hate that, too. Our goal is to eliminate it."

Yes, everyone hates that, and it's something the league should be able to correct fairly easily, with the cooperation of its broadcast partners. Most of the specifics mentioned in Goodell's letter are in the same vein: They are simple, easy to implement and difficult to argue with.

For instance, the league wishes to standardize halftime lengths in all games (the Super Bowl presumably excluded) in order to "return to the action as quickly as possible." Honest reaction: I thought this was already the case. The NFL's Game Operations Manual, which is a tidy 271 pages long, includes this "reminder" that there will be "no deviation from the pregame time schedule, or the 12-minute halftime…" However, team officials or the broadcast team could request and be granted extra time between halves, as when a team was holding a special ceremony on the field. Presumably, that option would go away, and it's hard to imagine there being much resistance to the idea.

Some of it simply requires teams to stay on their toes in a couple instances in which the running of the play clock was relaxed. After a touchdown is scored, there is currently no play clock. The same is true following an extra point after which the broadcast does not go to commercial. The league may add a play clock to these situations, which would simply require teams to be ready with their extra point and kickoff/kickoff return units, much as they are for the vast majority of the game's plays. NFL staffs are very good at this already; it would be a simple adjustment.

And again, this is not a drastic change in procedure. The NFL rulebook already lists a "try" (another term for an extra point attempt) as one of the game-stoppages after which a 25-second clock is supposed to apply. This seems more a matter of enforcement, as with halftime.

Part of the proposal is to "standardize the starting of the clock after the runner goes out-of-bounds," which again was something I thought was already a standard part of game operations. For most of the game, the clock stops when the ballcarrier goes out of bounds and starts again when the officials spot the ball. During the last five minutes of either half, it stops until the ball is snapped. Goodell's letter does not specify what "standardizing" this rule would mean, but perhaps the clock would start again at the spot of the ball in all situations. That line might also refer to re-starting the play clock, though it does not specifically say so, whereas the other lines specifically say "play clock." Either way it's unlikely most fans would even notice such a change, but if it improves the flow of the game it is – again – a matter of common sense.

Pictures of the Buccaneers' running backs.

The most significant proposed change, and the one that would require the most infrastructure and effort to enact, is in how replay challenges would be resolved. The league wishes to centralize the decision-making process at its officiating headquarters in New York. When a call is challenged, a tablet with the replays will be brought to the referee, who will then discuss the play with the officials in New York. The NFL believes this will "improve consistency and accuracy of decisions," not to mention speeding up the game.

It's fair to be skeptical of the first half of that claim until it is proven in actual practice. It does make sense, however: A single well-informed official in New York (or a small group of said officials) would seem likely to apply rule interpretations more consistently than 16 different sets of game officials. The second proposed benefit – a faster replay process – would presumably be a surer thing if it is a specific and emphasized mandate on the crew in New York.

Here's one on which we can all agree: Fewer commercial breaks during a game would be a good thing. That requires a concession, of course, as broadcast partners are not going to willingly relinquish a big portion of their revenue source. So you have fewer commercial breaks but they all last a little longer, two minutes and 20 seconds instead of one minute and 50 seconds. Perhaps I can't speak for every NFL fan, but I would gladly take that tradeoff. Thirty more seconds for a bathroom break.

Changes to the great NFL game are rarely made without serious debate, both among team and league officials and among fans. These ideas, however, shouldn't meet much resistance as they are mostly common-sense changes that would result in something just about every football fan would appreciate: faster-paced entertainment with fewer interruptions.

Now if we could just get rid of those dumb excessive-celebration rules.

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