The NFL took a good step on Wednesday, when they brought the playoff overtime rules to the regular season and added automatic review of all turnovers. While there's more rule changes to be considered in May, there are two big questions just begging to be asked in that vein. Let's take a look at those questions, though we've got a fair bit more insight on one than the other.
Why not immediately institute the new overtime rules in the regular season to begin with?
How did it make even an atom's worth of sense that the new overtime rules immediately applied to the most important games, the playoffs, and not the regular season? It's not as though there's 60+ games to play in the regular season and that these rules would have a limited impact or something ... there's 16 in the regular season and one game decides multiple teams' fates every single year.
We haven't even seen the rules in action, and can't actually have an opinion on how they work. Two seasons of those rules being implemented in the playoffs have led to nothing. The only time we've reached the playoffs since the new rules happened, the Denver Broncos scored a touchdown on the first play. The rules weren't needed. So now the NFL has suddenly decided that yes, the rules do work, so bring them in for the full season! It's just a weird exercise, as this should have already happened.
So what about challenge flags, then?
Since all turnovers are now automatically reviewed, the top two things that are generally challenged are now subject to automatic review. Every time there's a touchdown or a turnover, the referees and booth will confirm that it was, in fact, a score or a turnover. That's productive, helpful and it makes a lot of sense, providing it doesn't considerably slow the game down.
That being said, what about the challenge flag? Some have asked what they're used for, and the biggest answer is that it probably means that coaches will be more inclined to challenge the spot of the ball. Every single game has at least one, but usually more, bad spot that hurts one team. It's, at this point, a "part of the game." In the past, coaches have wanted to keep their challenges, in the event they need to use it on a score or a turnover. But now they can use them more often without having to worry, leading to getting, how you say, "screwed" less.
It also means that the NFL could review the things that are up for challenge. As it stands, there's the overarching rule of "you can't challenge a flag," despite the fact that there's already exceptions to this rule. Some will remember the Michael Crabtree touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals last season, and how he was flagged for an illegal touch because he went out of bounds. The rules state you can challenge a boundary call, which Jim Harbaugh figured you could, but in their stricter definitions, the play was actually un-challengeable.
But even a league official said it was a good play to challenge. The NFL has this huge rulebook and so many loopholes. Each team has a finite number of challenges, and, generally speaking, those challenges get used. It's not making the game much longer and it's not an issue. So why even limit what can be challenged anyway?
Make it to where you can challenge those idiotic 60 yard pass interference calls. Have the head referee take a good look at it and make the judgement call with it all laid out in slow motion that the referee on the field struggled with at game speed. Or, make it to where those helmet-to-helmet hits that are being penalized worse and worse each year are challenge-able.
The refereeing in the NFL was worse in 2011 than any other in recent memory. They can't keep up with the game's speed, mostly when it comes to helmet-to-helmet. Where's the issue in making that a challenge-able play? Make those challenges burn a hole in the coach's pocket. The only things that shouldn't be challenge-able are unsportsmanlike conduct and things of that nature.