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Sant-Miller: Keep the ‘foot’ in football

| Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ah, the intrigue of the upright. As I reviewed the recent NFL rule changes, I couldn’t help but notice the undue amount of love the uprights were getting. Three new rules revolve around the field-goal posts, one of which I emphatically agree with, one of which I think is ridiculous and one of which I think is simply intriguing.

Allow me to begin with the first change. The NFL now plans to extend the goalposts an additional five feet above the crossbar, making it easier for officials to determine if a field goal is good or not.

This is one of the most logical and practical changes the NFL has ever implemented. An ungodly number of professional football games are decided by solely a field goal. It only makes sense to make field goal assessment as effective as possible. This is one of those rule changes that cannot physically affect the game in a negative manner, requires little effort and change, but effectively improves the game and prevents potential future issues. I love this change. The biggest shame? It took the NFL this long to fix this issue.

The second change: the NFL will no longer allow dunking of the football through the uprights as a touchdown celebration. If a player does celebrate a touchdown in this manner, he will be flagged for excessive celebration.

Though the logic of this rule makes sense, I can’t agree with the change. Last season, after a particularly emphatic dunk, the goalposts had to be adjusted and leveled out. Jimmy Graham had left them crooked. Fair enough. It’s a little impractical to have to stop the flow of the football game to fix the level of a goalpost. I recognize that this makes sense. Yet, they are building a theory off of one anecdote. This happened once, and the dunk celebration happens hundreds of time a season.

More importantly, the NFL is continuing to propagate their perception as the “No Fun League.” Part of what makes sports so entertaining is their raw emotion. The Tiger Woods fist-pump. The Kevin Garnett head butt. The Yasiel Puig slide into home plate. Even the Richard Sherman postgame interview. Yes, it’s a professional sports league, but it’s the genuine lack of polished “professionalism” on the field that makes sports so captivating.

Rules to limit taunting, racist slurs and foul language on the field are good. Reign negative emotion in and try to remove hate from the field; I like these changes. But, NFL, please stop siphoning off the visible passion from the game of football. It’s what makes football so special; to the players, it’s so much more than a game.

Finally, the NFL is considering moving extra points back to the 20-yard line. I had heard rumblings of this for a few weeks now and now it’s solidified: this rule has been modified and applied for the first two preseason games on a trial basis.

Here, the objective is to increase the excitement and competition in an NFL game. Teams make extra points at an absurdly high rate and to some, consequentially, the extra point attempt comes off as a wasted down. Ideally, this change would increase the excitement of scoring and increase the value of kickers.

I’ve gone back and forth on this change. I can’t help but deny that it would be cool to increase the challenges a team faces in putting points on the board. Also, this change raises the kicker’s value and makes their skills even more important.

Here is why I’m hesitant to jump on the bandwagon. It could simultaneously act to phase kickers out of the game. Moving the extra point back will incentivize going for two, devaluing a kicker to the football team. Even more abstractly, rumors have floated around about making the player who scores the touchdown kick the field goal. Again, this threatens the place kickers hold in the NFL.

I think the job of a kicker is the most impressive of any position. You ask a player to go out and kick an oddly-shaped ball upwards of 40 to 50 yards. Fair enough, but you also expect them to hit the field goal almost every time. This is where the bar is set. Perfection is demanded, adding more pressure to a position that carries the responsibility of deciding a fair share of football games in the waning seconds.

Kickers have to love the pressure, and the best ones truly embrace it. That’s why kickers love having the opportunity to attempt a long field goal and why many like the rule change. Still, at the back of their mind has to be the fear that this is a sign of things to come, a league that wants more focus on the other players and less on the kickers.

Let’s not get away from the game’s roots. Let’s not get away from the kicking game. Let’s not get away from only position that makes sense with a game named FOOTball.


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