I've given the rule changes some thought...okay, a LOT of thought in the past couple of days. Actually, it's been simmering in my subconcious since the NFL instituted the "5-Yard-Rule" vis-a-vis WRs a couple of years ago. This really hasn't a thing to do with player safety. Well, maybe it does but this argument can be credibly made as well: It's all about the Benjamins, baby...

As Chuckdawg, Kyle Commenter, and several others have repeatedly stated this season: PPG is on inflationary course. QBs are, as FisheriesDawg points out here, breaking records at a record breakneck, um, pretty good clip. In the NFL, the most important player is undoubtably the QB and scoring is trending upward. Also take into account the rise of lower body injuries in the NFL and CFB the last 2 seasons, all due to defenders trying to not get hit with an MTP (Mythical Targeting Penalty). Look, when you see James Harrison diving at a receiver's feet instead of blowing him up, there's something very WRONG with the game of football. These stats are not, I believe, mutually exclusive. But why? Because of the old football adage: Defense wins championships but Offense sells tickets.

The vast majority of the casual football fans don't want to see a defensive battle. If there's no loyalty to, or vested interest in, a team, the fans want to see an exciting game. And that means having the stadium scoreboard resemble a pinball machine's. As much as most of us here loved seeing the Dooley/Russell "three yards and cloud of dust" brand of 17-10 football, or BVG's suffocating defenses of the early Richt era, casual fans (and more especially those watching at home) want to see the Oregon/Baylor/Philadelphia Eagles 70 plays per game (or per half). I'll admit I was absolutely geeked about our offense's early season ability to hang 40 on just about anybody, but I was also terrified about needing our defense to win every shootout for us with a last-minute stand. What these rule changes have done is effectively rendered moot one half of the football team, and which ever offense gets the ball last wins...

Now, as far as injuries go I'm not trying to hang any of ours on the effects of the targeting rule. Only one significant offensive player's (Marshall) injury happened as a result of contact and that was just a bad luck play. I don't have specific examples of low hits (not dirty hits, but from players going low to tackle) causing injury to signifcant players in CFB (I think Chuckdawg is planning a piece on that soon), but I think we're at the point of redefining what low (read: dirty) hits are because of the MTPs. One can hardly blame defensive players for going for the knees/feet because even when they overturn an MTP, it's still a penalty. It's conceivable that it could, you know, be directly linked to a team losing a game....[/sarcasm] And from there, it's not a far trip to understand why a defensive player isn't as aggressive as he normally would be/has been in the past. Either way, the player's actions or inactions can end up hurting his team.

Unfortunately for all of us, the law of unintended consequences will likely hit CFB/NFL threefold:

  1. Football will become the chaos that only Edward Lorenz could love. UGA was still considered a MNC contender before the Tennessee game. USCe was an SECCG contender until last week. Imagine the effects if applied to FSU, OSU, Oregon or Alabama, but due to players getting hit in the knees..... Everybody loves an underdog, but seeing ECU and Utah State duke it out in the playoffs every year would get tedious very quickly. It would be exciting for the casual fan, but the hardcore fans would quickly sour on the game. That would be replacing a residual income stream with a transient one, and the Universities wouldn't like it one bit when revenues drop.
  2. The skill level of players, and thus the level of play, would diminish significantly. Gifted athletes would choose sports where their careers would last longer (like baseball) and probably wouldn't leave them crippled by the time they hit their mid-30s, rather than play RB or WR. Defensive skills would atrophy simply because they wouldn't be allowed to practice the art in its intended form, or the tough kids would just go play that other "football" (where they're allowed to run into the opposing players). MAYBE some talented kids would use football scholarships to get their education, but the cream rising to the NFL would be thin and sour, which would weaken their product. In the age of the NFL salary cap, teams would need to spread the money around to afford the players that they'd have to sign to replace their injured stars, so stars would make less. Hello MLB, where a mediocre first baseman can make $12M per year until he's 40!
  3. I know that the NFL was couching all of this under the cloud of the concussion lawsuit, which had the advantage of being true. But now that they've shown to be susceptible to this kind litigation, how long will it take for a group of prematurely retired players to sue the NFL because the new safety rules caused them to lose years of playing time? Lost playing time means lost production in a season, which means even smaller contracts; Fewer years of playing time means fewer contracts. It's a vicious cycle, but don't worry - all those settlement costs will be passed on to you, the ticket and Officially Licensed merchandise buyers!!

I get what the NCAA and NFL are trying to sell with the "emphasis" on player safety, but I've often been accused of being a cynic. The rules will be gradually changed so that, eventually, the officials will have no more bearing on the outcome of the game than they had before (PWG'd). Eventually, defenses will be allowed to play the game of football again. But, as has happened so many times before, the ruling bodies are quick to overreact but slow to come back to the happy medium. I'm afraid of how much damage will be done to the sport we all love before they come around, how long it will take for everyone to notice, and what the long-term effects will be. I know that everything cyclical (heck, NASCAR was the 3rd most popular sport a few years ago) and that evolution is inevitable, but I wonder if this isn't the launching of the meteor that takes out the dinosaurs.
Now where did I put my tinfoil Georgia hat?

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