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Simplifying complex enforcements: Breaking down Proposal No. 13

The Competition Committee simplified certain enforcement points in one of the new rule changes.




2014 rule changes

The Competition Committee offered up a proposal that received little discussion, and was explained by committee member Jeff Fisher in a fairly obscure manner:

Basically, this Proposal Number 13 is going to simplify everything; clean it all up, make sure we don’t have any issues. [The officials] have a lot of conferences, and there are a lot of things that can happen with the enforcement. When it’s all said and done, we’re going to enforce from the previous spot rather than the end of the run or the spot of the foul [in certain situations]. We think it really cleans things up from a rule enforcement standpoint.

That’s the Cliffs Notes version of the new rule. It affects fouls on three different types of plays: running plays with losses of yardage, running plays with losses of possession, and plays after scrimmage kicks.

By simplifying the enforcement points, the offense gains a new advantage in certain situations. Consider this play from last year’s AFC Divisional Playoff game (video) when the Patriots  botched the snap on a punt. The line of scrimmage was the 44, and the ball was finally recovered by the Patriots at the 2. Hypothetically, let’s say one of the Colts committed a facemask foul after the recovery, and then the Patriots fumbled out of the end zone. Under the old rules, the foul would be enforced from the 2 (spot of the foul), because the dead-ball spot is a worse outcome as a safety. Adding 15 yards brings the ball to the 17. However, since there cannot be a loss for the offense on an accepted defensive penalty, the Patriots would get the ball back at the previous spot, giving them 1st and 10 from the 44.

The simplified rule would not involve the spot of the foul nor the dead-ball spot; even the must-make-the-line-of-scrimmage provision is out. The foul would be enforced from the 44, giving the Patriots, in this example, the ball at the Colts 41. This would net a penalty that occurred at the 2 to be marched off 57 yards for a Patriots first down.

Here are the new enforcement rules explained:

1. If the spot of the foul is behind the line of scrimmage and the defensive foul is behind the line of scrimmage on a running play, the foul is enforced from the line of scrimmage.

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2. If a running play results in a turnover, but the defense committed a foul prior to the recovery, the enforcement depends on whether the fumble occurred behind the line of scrimmage or not. It is irrelevant as to where the foul occurs, but remember, fouls that occur at the snap (defensive offside, defensive 12 man on the field) will be enforced from the previous spot and replay the down.

Of course, since the defense does not have a “clean hands” recovery, the penalty nullifies the change of possession.

Note: This enforcement is also applied to backward passes that are recovered by the defense. Also, it only applies to a single change of possession.

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3. The third type of enforcement is a foul by the receiving team during a scrimmage kick (punt or missed field goal, but not a kickoff). Here, we ignore the previous spot, because it was prior to when the kicking team surrendered the ball. The Competition Committee has eliminated the dead-ball spot as a point of enforcement, which would be used on a punt return for negative yardage.

(There are two instances that may continue to be treated as spot fouls only: invalid fair-catch signal and unnecessary roughness for blocking after a fair-catch signal. This will be ascertained once the final rule is placed in the rulebook.)

This does not include a foul during a runback. Once the receiving team has possessed the ball, the play ceases to be a kick, and all enforcements are treated as a regular running play. On the runback, a foul by the receiving team goes to the spot of the foul or the dead-ball spot (whichever is worse), and a foul by the kicking team is tacked on from the dead-ball spot.

Also, because a free kick (kickoff) is essentially a free ball, these enforcement points only apply to kicks after a snap. The possession of the ball is the fulcrum point when the kickoff line no longer becomes a point of enforcement. Therefore, most receiving team fouls during the kickoff necessitate a rekick.

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Now, that is how the Competition Committee sought to simplify the penalty enforcement process. And, it may lead to longer conferences at first to get the right enforcement spot.