By: Bob George/BosSports.net
March 28, 2012

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The NFL is perhaps the best of the pro leagues. But in some ways, the college gang simply does it better.

More sports fans watch the NFL than all the other major pro sports. It has arguably supplanted baseball as the national pastime. The league made it through its most impacting work stoppage since 1987 last year, and the indelible memory of the resolution is then-Colt center Jeff Saturday with his arms around recently widowed Bob Kraft as a sign of unity and relief for both the owners and the players.

The NFL generally does well in updating the game as needs warrant. Every year, new rule changes come out which seem to get the most publicity than the other leagues. Unlike Major League Baseball, who still refuses to expand the use of instant replay to address the problem of lousy umpiring, the NFL does address most all of its pressing needs and has made an honest effort to make their sport the very best it can be. It cannot address every issue completely, but it does the best it can.

Most of the time.

The new rule changes for the 2012 season came out on Wednesday. Some changes made a lot of sense, like making 12 men in the huddle a dead ball foul (which now means a 10-second runoff in the last two minutes of a half) and expanding the new overtime rule in the postseason to the entire regular season. One change is making the victim of a crackback block a "defenseless player" and the offender to receive a 15-yard penalty. A crackback block has always been a personal foul (Tom Brady once got called for a crackback block some years back); maybe this new designation means a player can now be ejected for such an infraction.

But two areas in particular should be updated further. One idea got shot down, the other simply needs to be injected into the subconscious of the owners. The areas include overtime, which did get an update, and the initiation of replays, which had an update but got shot down by the owners. In both these areas, the college game has it nailed, and the NFL needs to follow suit.

Making the overtime rule apply to the entire season is nice, but the college overtime rule is better. Even if you get a team that scores a touchdown on the opening drive to end the game (and a lesser known component of the NFL rule is that a game can end immediately on a safety as well as a touchdown), it is still somewhat unfair to the losing team that never got a possession in overtime. The NFL allows the overtime game to continue if the team with the first possession kicks a field goal. From that moment on, the game converts to sudden death unless the team with the second possession kicks a field goal, whereupon the game continues tied.

In the college game, teams begin 25 yards away from a touchdown. They run as many plays as necessary until they score a touchdown, kick or miss a field goal, or suffer a turnover. Any team than outscores the other after each team gets a possession wins the game. If the teams remain tied, the game continues with one more possession each. Beginning with the third overtime, teams can no longer kick a one-point conversion and must go for two point conversions for the rest of the game.

The old XFL, goofy a concept it was, had an interesting twist on the collegiate overtime policy. Not only did the team with the second possession had to at least equal the score of the other team, but had to do so in as many plays or fewer than the other team needed to score. If the other team scored a touchdown in five plays, you had to respond with a touchdown in five plays or less. This is a bit much and not necessary in college ball or the NFL, but it added an interesting angle to the game.

The replay issue was addressed and voted down. That is a shame, because it would have changed the NFL way to the college way, and again, the kids in school do it better than the big boys.

In college, all replays are initiated from the booth, without coaching challenges. The NFL voted this down. The college way of doing this makes for a smoother and quicker process, and takes the burden of replay checking off of the coaches and puts it back on the officials, where it belongs.

Some people believe that coaches' challenges adds a terrific dimension to the game, somewhat like National League managers having to deal with pitchers having to hit whereas American League managers do not. In the big picture, this is not sound reasoning. The most important element of any competitive game is to get the call right. If an NFL head coach exhausts all his three challenges, and an obvious official's error comes up before the two-minute warning, that call should be corrected along with all the others. But in the NFL, the coach is out of challenges and is out of luck until two minutes to go in the game. The head coach is punished for bad officiating despite having followed procedure all along. In college, the call is corrected and the game is perhaps not adversely and unfairly affected.

There are also some people who believe that the officials on the field should "take ownership" of their calls. Under the current system, they already do. In every major league sport which involves replay, even MLB, the "presumption of correctness" always applies, meaning that the call on the field is presumed correct unless conclusive video evidence comes about to warrant a call reversal. All replays must show convincing and incontrovertible evidence that the call was wrong to allow the call to be changed. The officials on the field must still make the calls, and it is up to replays and the men in the booth to confirm it or overturn it.

College games still take longer because of many more ways to stop the clock between plays. But the game still flows better thanks to the replay rule, and the overtime sessions are incredibly exciting with no team getting cheated. The NFL needs to examine these issues more closely, and adopt both changes in the near future. One might wonder how Super Bowl XLVI would have turned out if Bill Belichick hadn't felt "compelled" to challenge that miracle catch by Mario Manningham which cost him a precious timeout that was badly needed later but wasn't there. And if Pittsburgh had gotten one possession in that playoff overtime loss at Denver, would Tim Tebow had made it to Foxborough to get his fanny handed to him the next week and not the Steelers?

Whatever misgivings the owners have in resisting those changes, they need to set them aside and do the right thing. The college way is the right way.


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