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2013 NFL Rules Changes

March 20, 2013

Courtesy Deadspin, here’s a list of a handful of rules that the NFL was set to vote on this year to change in the upcoming season.

Apparently the vote’s already been held, and the majority (all of?) of the proposed changes have been passed.

That link focuses mainly on the helmet-contact rule, which is understandable given the league’s recent concerns about player safety and CTE related brain damage.

However, the “tuck rule” is a slightly more interesting change, I think. The tuck rule text is as follows (again, courtesy Deadspin):

When [an offensive] player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble.

The intent of the rule was apparently to disambiguate the quarterback’s actions, and to remove the determination of intent from the referees. Essentially, it said that if a player holds the ball in such a manner that he was planning to throw it, the any forward motion counts as a forward pass, rather than a fumble. The important distinction being that the ball would therefore become dead upon hitting the ground, as an incomplete pass. It’s generally a good idea to design rules unambiguously, such that the intent of the player is irrelevant. Of course, this isn’t always possible, and some rules are enforced purely based on intent, but it’s a good guideline.

But I don’t feel strongly about this particular rule change, because I don’t think intent is all that ambiguous in this case. Also, I think it more accurately reflects the state of the play that completed. If the quarterback is in the realm of cases where this rule can be applied, something has already gone horribly wrong for him. The decision of whether this should be penalized by a potential turnover, or simply the loss of a down is the kind of noisy fluctuation that already pervades football, for instance, in where balls are spotted on first down or the line between legal and illegal contact. It’s already a noisy, ambiguous game, so this isn’t out of character.

The other humorous change is the elimination of penalizing a coach for illegally throwing a challenge flag. It’s a fun one, because it’s basically a legal-ese sort of edge case. It’s clearly an arbitrary procedure thing, something that doesn’t really matter, but of which coaches are expected to be aware. Especially now that there’s been a highly publicized instance of it, I’d expect that it would really never come up again, and if it did, the coach would have to take full responsibility. But in keeping with the theory that the game should be decided by the players, rather than by the lawyers, I expect people to be happy about the change in general.

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