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Is a wider field coming to NFL stadiums?



The NFL’s Competition Committee last year briefly considered widening the field of play and some people think the NFL should consider the proposal again.

If the NFL ever decides to widen the playing field, several NFL stadiums, like Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, would have to undergo big changes.

According to Dan Pompei of the National Football Post, the NFL briefly considered widening the field similar to the dimensions of the Canadian Football League.  The CFL field is 35-feet wider and proponents of the change say it will make the game safer.  Former NFL executive Bill Polian, who worked with teams in the CFL before becoming an executive in the NFL, says the wider field might cut the amount of violent collisions that cause head injuries.  Some feel that NFL players have “outgrown” the field they currently play on, leading to violent collisions and head injuries.  The idea is that the wider field will spread out the players,  reduce the big hits in the middle of the field, and may encourage faster, more athletic players who can cover a larger field.

Opponents of the idea say that the wider field would actually allow defenders to “get a full head of steam” and deliver harder impacts on ball carriers.  Polian counters, “We know the most ferocious hits come from guys who are 10-yards apart and they lay each other out.  You have fewer higher power collisions in the Canadian League than here.”  Everyone in the National Football Post article conceded that the change would favor the offense and scoring would go up.

This proposal has many hurdles to clear, and possibly the biggest hurdle being the NFL stadiums.  Many of the modern NFL arenas are built specifically for football.  If the rules call for a wider field, franchises would have to retrofit the field into their current stadium possibly impacting sight lines or seating capacity. 

How would the change impact officiating?  The wing officials would have a longer way to look across the line of scrimmage in order to determine proper formations, and the wider field would make it harder for the officials to decide forward progress up the middle.  It would be especially difficult for the wings in goal-line situations.  If the field is widened, I would expect the NFL to place the umpire back in his traditional place behind the defensive line.  And, I would predict that the NFL would add an eighth official to cover the defensive secondary.

So, how close is the NFL to widening the field?  I think this proposal is a long way from becoming a reality.  First of all, the proposal would radically change the NFL game.  It would be harder for the defense to chase down the offense and possibly lead to scores resembling an Arena Football League game.  Secondly, NFL owners would have to retrofit their stadiums which would cost a lot of money.  And finally, some fear the wider field could increase the speed of the game and cause even more violent collisions. 

The Competition Committee meets in a few weeks to discuss rule changes.  There are many other pressing matters for the committee to talk about and I doubt widening the field will get much consideration this year.  But, with the growing number of people worried about the long-term viability of the game due to head injuries, the committee may be forced to seriously consider a wide field in the future.

Photo:  Turner Construction Company

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"