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2023 rule changes

Competition Committee wants to fix penalty quirks and redefine launching

There are 17 proposed rule changes for owners; the Competition Committee announced 8



Owners are meeting in Phoenix to discuss, among other things, 17 proposed rule changes. The team-initiated proposals were announced previously, and the Competition Committee announced 8 proposals on Friday.

Proposals from the Competition Committee go to the owners if there is unanimous approval, although abstentions are allowed. Each member of the committee essentially has veto power, because one down vote means the committee does not support it.

And because of that high bar, Competition Committee proposals have a good chance of being passed. When it is a player-safety proposal, the chances increase, as owners have liability awareness. It has to be a shoo-in when such a proposal also has the endorsement of the Health and Safety Advisory Committee.

(There are 9 team proposals, so the first Competition Committee proposal is number 10.)

10. Redefine launching

The first is to redefine launching, which requires a springing action from two feet, to only require one foot to be called a foul. Launching can be used on a hit on a defenseless player when it is a forcible blow to the head or neck area and delivered to a player in one of the 11 defined defenseless postures (most commonly a receiver in the catch process). Launching may also be called on a crackback block — in this case, commonly when a motion man is travelling toward the area where the snap occurred and delivers a forcible head blow to the opponent.

This proposal has the endorsement of the Competition Committee and the Health and Safety Advisory Committee.

11. Fifteen for tripping

The Competition Committee is also looking to raise the penalty on tripping from a 10-yarder to a 15. Tripping has typically been seen as analogous to a takedown via defensive holding. Essentially, a trip occurs when a player cannot make a play on an opponent and resorts to this desperation move. It does cause injuries, and so the committee is considering this to be unnecessary roughness.

Trips are difficult to see. Officials are not trained on feet, the maneuver is typically done stealthily, and many times trips occur in traffic where there isn’t a clear view of the foul. If it is moved into the 15-yard category, there will likely be an increase in tripping fouls called. By moving it up into the player-safety major penalty bracket, the standard is “err on the side of safety.” If a player suddenly hits the deck, and the official is unsure if it was an illegal trip or incidental tangled feet, the official will flag it.

12 & 13. Other penalty enforcement fixes

A few proposed tweaks were proposed to achieve some consistency.

A forward handoff is only allowed to be made to an eligible receiver behind the line of scrimmage. When the handoff occurs downfield, it is 5 yards from the spot of the foul and a loss of down. The rule change would be to have forward handoffs to linemen behind the line of scrimmage also carry a loss of down and also be a spot foul (currently from the line of scrimmage).

Illegal forward passes beyond the line of scrimmage (or after the ball crosses back behind the line) are a 5-yard penalty and a loss of down. The committee proposes that illegal kicks in those same situations would lower from 10 yards to 5 and be a loss of down for consistency. This is not to include illegally kicking a loose ball. If a punt is beyond the line, it is an illegal kick, but if a punter drops the ball and then kicks the rolling ball, it’s an illegally kicked ball (and still 10 yards) but not an illegal kick.

14. Punt touchbacks to the 25

Since the kickoff moved the touchback line to the 25, it has reduced the dangers of the kickoff play. Punts are now, according to Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay, the most dangerous play. The committee is proposing moving the punt touchback line to the 25 as well.

So, how does this help? If a team has 4th down at midfield, they may be inclined to go for the first down rather than punting for a potential net of 25. Fewer punts would mean a reduction in injuries.

There are many more things that need to be implemented to make punts safer — all of which are being examined because of their impact on punting downs. This is a small measure, and because it’s being presented as a player-safety rule, it is likely to pass.

15. Double foul at the end of the half

There’s a small quirk to the rules extending the half, and the Competition Committee is looking to remove it. If both teams have dead-ball fouls, the half is over, just the same as if there is a single defensive dead-ball foul. But if the offense’s foul is a live-ball foul, it pulls the defense’s dead-ball foul to combine as a live-ball fouls, allowing the half to be extended by an untimed down. Basically, the timing of the offense’s foul is creating the advantage for the offense, and in this case the committee proposes that the normal enforcement provisions apply, just that an extension of the half is not available.

If the defense commits a live-ball foul, either alone or combined with an offensive foul, the half can be extended (although there are other exceptions that have been on the books to address other quirks).

16. Kickoff touchback zone

Fair catches are rarely called for on kickoffs, but that is about to change. The Competition Committee is proposing that the NFL adopt the college rule that allows for a fair catch inside the 25 to be a touchback to the 25.

It effectively takes the “mortar kick” tactic of a kicker attempting to reach the field of play short of the end zone, drawing the receiver into a kick return.

A receiver must be alert to call for a fair catch if a teammate also does, otherwise the play is over at the spot of the catch. Currently, the NFL does not have a fair-catch signal as a reviewable element, but with the likely increase in fair catches, maybe it should.

17. Use of helmet clarifications

In mostly a bookkeeping move, the language that prohibits a player to “ram, butt, or spear” an opponent is consolidated under the use-of-the-helmet foul. What is added is that a facemask or helmet may contact the opponent legally with the helmet or facemask in the form of a conventional block or tackle. In other words, there is clear “incidental contact” language written in, so in a case where the initial contact is legally to the body, followed by helmets contacting because of the lurch of the tackle, this is clearly not a foul.

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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