Commentary by Mark Schultz
The Week 15 game between the Tennessee Titans and the New York Jets featured an unacceptable situation that saw players come off the bench to participate in the fight (video). While football games rarely feature bench-clearing brawls, the NFL and NCAA must do all it can to discourage that practice before it become commonplace.
Both professional hockey and professional basketball had problems with bench clearing brawls 20 to 25 years ago. Both leagues adopted strong policies that included player suspensions, coach suspensions, player fines and franchise fines if basketball or hockey players left the bench to participate in a fight. Bench-clearing brawls in hockey and basketball have become almost extinct.
In the NFL there are no automatic suspensions for fighting or for leaving the bench to participate in a fight, but there are hefty fines. If a player fights, the NFL fines a player over $27,000 for the first offense. Players “unnecessarily entering the fight area” can look forward to a first-offense fine of over $5,500. The NFL does not have any grace for players who jump into the fray to play peacemaker, or come off the bench because they are a substitute entering for the next play — the NFL can fine those peacemakers or substitutes over $2,700. These are just a few of the fines that have been codified by the NFL.
The officials, of course, always have the discretion to eject any player for fighting or unsportsmanlike conduct.
If the NFL follows its own fine structure, several Jets and Titans will be lighter in the wallet this week. I hope that fines are enough to discourage fighting in the NFL. Fighting and brawls are not what football needs. If fines don’t work then it will be time to start issuing suspensions.