Thursday, September 25, 2014

What The NFL Needs Is A Real Overtime Rule

A few years ago, several pundits started complaining about the overtime rules in the NFL. They argued how ridiculous it was for one team to win the toss, then watch as that team does nothing but play for the right to kick a field goal to win it.

So Roger Goodell decides we'll test out a modified overtime rule for the playoffs. Simply put, the team that wins the toss cannot win the game by kicking a field goal on its opening drive, but it can win the game if it scores a touchdown.

I remember telling somebody that the rule should have been changed so that each team was guaranteed at least one possession on offense and then you get rid of most complaints.

Next thing you know, Tim Tebow passes to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime, Thomas takes it to the house, and I'm celebrating that my Denver Broncos just beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs.

Of course, now we have the modified overtime rule applied to all games, and now what? We have Peyton Manning rallying the Denver Broncos to force overtime against the Seattle Seahawks, only for the Seahawks to win the overtime coin toss, followed by Russell Wilson rallying his team down the field for the touchdown.

Sure enough, here come the pundits who complain about how unfair that is to Peyton Manning... but before Seahawks fans get tuned up, you can bet those same pundits would have complained if the Broncos had won the toss and scored the touchdown, because Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson didn't get his turn.

Then again, those same pundits were likely saying nothing when Tebow to Thomas happened, because they were too busy talking about Tebow Time.

Anyway, I still am of the opinion that the modified overtime rule is a bad idea... which means, yes, I believe the Steelers should have had a possession on offense in the Tebow Time playoff matchup.

More to the point, I want an overtime rule that doesn't lead to the predictable outcome of "if we win the toss, we will receive."

So here's my proposal on how the NFL overtime rule should really be:

* There is no time limit. In other words, don't bother running the game clock. The play clock will run, but that's the only clock the offense has to manage.

* Coin flip happens the same way as the one to start regulation. Visiting team calls the toss. Whoever wins the toss gets to decide whether to receive the ball or defer.

* The game ends after both teams have an equal amount of offensive possessions and one team has the lead, with the exception of a team's defense or special teams unit scoring for the lead.

To explain the third point, let's go over some scenarios. I'll stick with the Broncos and Seahawks.

How it works for the offenses: Seattle wins the toss, elects to receive, then scores a touchdown. Seahawks kick the extra point. Broncos will receive a kickoff and must score a touchdown with extra point to tie and keep the game going, or get a two-point conversion to win. However, if each team fails to score on its first possession, then Seattle scores on its second possession, the Broncos get another possession for a chance to score.

How a defense can win the game: Denver wins the toss, elects to receive, but has an interception, which the Seahawks return for a touchdown. Game ends there. If each team has an offensive series and Seattle gets the pick six on Denver's second series, game still ends.

How a special teams unit can win the game: Broncos win the toss, elect to receive, but are forced to punt. Seahawks return the punt for a touchdown. Game ends there. Same thing if each team has one offensive series and Broncos second series ends in a punt, with Seattle getting the TD return.

Another special teams possibility: Broncos win the toss, elect to receive and score a touchdown with the extra point. Seahawks return the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. They can now kick the extra point to tie or go for two to win.

Yet another special teams possibility: Broncos win the toss, elect to receive, but are forced to punt. Seattle drives and is forced to settle for a field goal. But the field goal is blocked by the Broncos and they return the ball for a touchdown. Game over. Again... if Seattle's field goal try came at the end of its second possession and the Broncos get a block returned for a TD, game ends.

By doing it this way, nobody can complain that one team or the other didn't have an opportunity to score. Yeah, in certain cases, the quarterback didn't get to be the one to win the game, but so what? Each team got its turn with the ball for a chance to score, and that's what matters.

This rule takes away the mindset about always electing to receive if you win the overtime coin toss. It might still happen more often, but some teams might take a chance on deferring. Let's say the Broncos win and defer to the Seahawks. If the Seahawks score a touchdown with an extra-point kick, the Broncos know they can win with a touchdown and two-point conversion. In other words, teams might defer to get the last possession, so they know what to do should the opposing offense put points on the board first.

The rule change might also convince more teams to go for it on fourth down. Why risk giving the ball up to the other team, when you can either score the touchdown to take away the opponent's options for winning, or ensure you get the game-winning drive?

There might even be more teams that will go for two. Go back to the Broncos-Seahawks example. If the Seahawks score the touchdown and extra-point kick on the opening drive of overtime, how much more likely will the Broncos be willing to go for two should they score a touchdown? Wouldn't they rather want to win at that point instead of letting the game continue?

And since "playing for overtime and hoping we win the toss" is not as attractive of an option, teams might not want to risk overtime as much. So some teams might go for two more often in regulation, rather than just kicking an extra point to tie. Or they might even want to go for the touchdown to win instead of the field goal to tie.

Changing the overtime rule in this way would make overtime games more exciting and less predictable in terms of what teams will do. It would also mean no games would end in ties, because overtime would last until somebody wins. 

If Roger Goodell really wants to be innovative, then give this overtime rule proposal a try. No more complaining about how a team can win in overtime just by winning the coin toss.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rice, Peterson, And What Really Needs Honest Discussion

Recent weeks in the NFL have seen several players have serious run-ins with the laws, run-ins which have exposed some unpleasant truths about what it takes American society in general to face certain issues.

The case of Ray Rice exposed people to some unpleasant truths about domestic violence. The case of Adrian Peterson exposed people to some unpleasant truths about child abuse and how we should really engage in discipline of children.

There have been those who have wondered why the NFL has to be the organization to take the stand, those who have gotten defensive about how they discipline their children or how they were disciplined themselves, those who want to spend more time analyzing which NFL teams do or don't house troublemakers, and those who would just prefer everything go away so they can go back to enjoying football.

The truth is, the discussions we need to be having are about taking domestic violence more seriously than we do, and whether or not it's time we seriously question if certain means of disciplining a child are really that effective.

Let us start with domestic violence and face an unpleasant truth: The real reason why so many people got up in arms about Ray Rice's treatment of his now-wife Janay Palmer is that he was caught on tape. First came the tape of him dragging an unconscious Palmer from an elevator, which caused some people to put two and two together, while others said it didn't tell the whole story. Then came the second tape, and far more people were up in arms... and even then, some people just said "Ray Rice just made a mistake, that's all."

So let's go back in time to somebody else who "made a mistake" by getting involved in a domestic violence situation. Will Leitch will fill you on some of the details about a certain former NFL running back who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

On September 8, 1989, "Late Night With David Letterman" hosted actress Shelley Winters -- promoting her PG-rated weeper "An Unremarkable Life" with Patricia Neal -- and NBC sportscaster O.J. Simpson. 


Eight months earlier, after a New Year's Eve party, Simpson and his wife Nicole Brown Simpson had an argument at their estate in Brentwood, and Nicole called the police. When they arrived, Brown emerged from the bushes screaming, "He's going to kill me! He's going to kill me!" You can get a full account of the incident, including an animation showing the police arrival and where Nicole was hiding from O.J., on one of the many Simpson-case-obsessed sites still floating around the Internet.

A major difference between O.J. Simpson and Ray Rice is that Simpson was never caught on video. One has to wonder how different things may have turned out if he had been caught in the act.

But he wasn't, and so, four months later, Simpson pleaded no contest to spousal abuse and got probation and community service.

We all know what eventually happened to Nicole Brown Simpson.

Now the reality check: This is what happens when we just brush off a domestic violence incident as "he just made a mistake." And, no, this does not mean we need to lock up these people and throw away the key.

What it means is we need to treat domestic violence cases as more than just something that gets just a brief line in the police blotter, unless it involves a public official or celebrity, or if it gets caught on video (or both). We can argue whether or not the NFL needs to be taking a leadership role, but we can't simply dismiss domestic violence as an argument that got out of control.

An open, honest discussion about what is available for victims, and what punishment and rehabilitation can best be utilized for perpetrators, and what counseling services should be available to those who worry they are about to become perpetrators, makes far more sense than simply chalking it up to just an honest mistake and getting over it.

+ + +

Like Rice's situation, the case of Adrian Peterson really hits home because photos of his four-year-old son's injuries were released, thus putting a child abuse case into a visual context. Combine that with Peterson being arguably the highest profile running back in the NFL and you had a story many paid attention to.

Along the way, the discussion has been raised about how our grandparents disciplined our parents, taking objects such as yardsticks and paddles and smacking them on the behinds... and how those grandparents surely would have ended up in jail. Which then leads to the worries that we're going to start shaming people into no longer spanking kids, painting the parents who did it as bad people, and continue to lead to the wussification of America.

For those of you up on the ledge, allow me to tell you a story.

My parents have kept dogs as pets long before I was born, but the first one they got as a puppy was before I was born. When they got another puppy, I was 13 years old. At the time, I was taught how the puppy was to be trained in, among other things, knowing what was and wasn't permissible. If the puppy did something wrong, swat it on the nose.

Many years later, long after I had moved on, my parents welcomed more dogs into the household. These dogs were not swatted on the nose every time, though. My parents had learned about different ways to teach the dogs right from wrong that didn't involving swatting the animal.

So this begs the question: If somebody can determine that there are better ways to discipline a dog than just swatting it, why can't the same be said for disciplining children?

That's not to say parents who employ spanking do nothing but that. There are multiple ways parents may discipline children. But Mike Tanier's thoughtful piece about the science of spanking illustrates the problems that can arise from parents who resort to spanking too often... and perhaps make one reconsider whether or not it's a wise idea to spank a child in the first place.

That doesn't mean we need to round up all the parents who spanked their children and put them on public trial. Rather, it means we need to seriously revisit how we discipline children and how they actually turned out when they became adults.

The best argument might be this: Spanking is something that doesn't require much thought to be put into the action. It's a no-muss, no-fuss solution to disciplinary problems. Get the child to associate in his mind that certain actions will result in something that hurts, and they'll get the message.

But the truth is this: Raising a child is not supposed to be an easy task. I don't have children, but I was one myself, and I know very well that raising me was a tough task for my mother and father. And given that it's not an easy task, it's something that should require a lot of thought into how the child is raised... not just in terms of discipline and teaching right from wrong, but issues ranging from understanding how to handle the child at each stage of development, to understanding how you really show a child that you care.

Telling the kids they need to get out of bed in the morning, reminding them to be careful when they go some place, inquiring as to what they are doing if something appears suspicious, asking them if they are all right if they come home looking upset, and praising them for getting so many A's on a report card are all ways the parents show how they care for kids. It's a major part of parenting.

And the kids that go around acting defiant, or get spoiled rotten, or are constantly in trouble with the law... well, those kids aren't going to turn into good little soldiers just by spanking them. And the parents in question likely have bigger problems than whether they do or don't spank their kids.

We don't need to climb up to one ledge or the other and worry about what's going to happen next. We simply need to ask ourselves if there are better ways to teach our kids right from wrong than just using a swat on the butt.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

No More Applause For Roger Goodell

I can remember when Roger Goodell announced his decision to suspend Adam "Pacman" Jones for 16 games for violating the player conduct policy. I can remember applauding that decision.

Looking back, that was a mistake on my part.

No, it's not simply becase of the two-game suspension Ray Rice originally got. It is because, since that time, I can't figure out what the heck Goodell is doing to determine punishment under that policy, or player safety rules, or how to handle anything in the NFL in general, except with the idea that it must be about "damage control."

The lawsuit and research pertaining to concussions that NFL players have received, and how much the NFL knew about the long-term effects, has led Goodell to do one good thing, and that is to require that players who show symptoms of a concussion to be pulled from a game, and to get appropriate medical clearance before they may play again.

But it has also led to Goodell wanting to crack down on unsafe hits, leading to rules that no fan can really understand, as they scratch their heads as to why the referee would throw a flag in one instance and the player would get no additional punishment, but not throw a flag in another instant and Goodell to slap the player with a fine.

Furthermore, we still don't really know all the details regarding what the NFL did or didn't know about concussions.

And then there's that player conduct policy. Nobody seems to know what Goodell is really looking at when he decides punishment. One only need view the list of players implicated in domestic violence cases or crimes against women since Goodell's tenure began, to wonder exactly what Goodell is or isn't considering when he disciplines a player.

And do we need to revisit Bountygate? A Super Bowl championship team just might have been putting prices on the heads of other NFL players, so Goodell hands out punishment left and right, only for the players who were punished to appeal. Former commissioner Paul Tagliabue is called upon to hear the appeals, and proceeds to pretty much tell Goodell to get off his power trip.

Then there's Spygate, in which the evidence got destroyed and nobody can be certain about what Goodell really saw behind closed doors. There's also the recent lawsuit pertaining to painkillers and, in part, what the NFL knew about the dangers of trainers handing them out -- and in this case, we are likely only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

That brings us to Goodell's handling of the Ray Rice case. True, there are others who deserve some blame in how they handled it, but the problem Goodell has is that his handling of the Ray Rice case is just one of many in which he had his "damage control" mindset and didn't really grasp everything he was faced with... most of all, what really was going on with regards to whether or not he ever viewed the infamous elevator footage.

The 32 NFL owners are, indeed, Goodell's real bosses, and only they can ultimately decide his fate. But with at least a few people on Twitter declaring boycotts of NFL corporate sponsors -- and at least one of those sponsors acknowledging they are monitoring the situation -- you have to wonder how soon it will be before the owners start asking Goodell some serious questions.

Regardless of what Goodell really did or didn't know about Ray Rice's situation, his "damage control" mindset is not helping him. And it's making it less likely that I will ever applaud anything he does from this point forward.