The NFL is a copycat league, and as it turns out, that may actually apply to officiating and not just Xs and Os.
This season, college football is introducing a new rule in which players will be ejected for targeting an opponent with a blow to the head. The message is clear. The NCAA is trying to make the game as safe as possible, and it’s a rule that former head of NFL officiating, Mike Pereira, could see adopted by the NFL.
Asked by the Big Ten Network if he could see the NFL adopting the rule, Pereira said, “Sure, if this is successful.”
Pereira also mentioned that the NFL is changing out of necessity, not just to protect itself against future and current lawsuits, but also to ensure there continues to be a pipeline of talent that moves through the ranks of entry level football.
“The NFL has the same issues as college,” Pereira said. “This isn’t all about college football. The rules are about parents who don’t want to put their kids in Pop Warner football because they are scared of all coverage about concussions. So young kids are being turned away from the game. Those on the college and pro level have a responsibility to make the game safer on all levels. I have news for you: if the game dries up on the Pop Warner level, it will on every other level, too. There is no college or NFL football. It’s a trickle-up effect.”
Finally, Pereira made a note of how differently blows to the head are officiated than other penalties.
“It’s contrary to any other concept of officiating,” Pereira said. “We always told people to not throw the flag unless they are 110 percent sure. But in this area, over the past decade, it’s become OK to err on the side of safety. They throw the flag on impact; they throw when they think it’s close because the book tells them to do that. And the rules committee tells them to do that. They are charged with trying to protect players. They didn’t make the rules. They don’t mind doing this.”
That last bit is the issue that bothers many fans. In games where outcomes can be changed with one or two poor calls, it’s confusing why the NFL wants its officials to throw a flag if they think they saw a penalty. That stance has led to more than a few bad calls on Sundays, and every time it happens, the slow-motion replay enrages fans, and yes, I’ve been one of those screaming fans before too.
Still, it’s hard to fault the NFL for continuing to make progress in the arena of player safety. It’ll be interesting to see just how the college rule is administered, especially considering the vagueness of the term “targeting.” If, however, the rule is successful by any measure of players safety (i.e. gets dangerous players off the field), expect the NFL to move rather quickly next offseason in adopting the change.