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Thursday, March 24, 2016

The NFL is Taking a Page out of International Soccer's Rule Book

It's not quite yellow cards and red cards, but the principle is similar.

Yesterday the NFL announced that a player will get tossed from a game if he is flagged for two flagrant fouls.  No word about whether he'll get suspended for that ejection and have to miss the following game or he'll get suspended if he accumulates say five of these without getting ejected in any game. 

The NFL would be better served if it just adopted the yellow- and red-card approach that soccer has.  You can get called for a foul without getting carded, and that happens a lot.  But if you get a yellow card, you have to watch yourself because if you draw another one the penalty in soccer is stark -- you are out of the game, and your team then has to play a man down.  That won't happen in football, but the use of the cards would be a good reminder to the player, his coaches and the fans as to who drew a flagrant foul penalty.  And a red card, upon the issuance of the second flagrant penalty flag, would signify an ejection to all.  That type of accountability would change behavior in all likelihood, at least to some degree.  For the most part in soccer, it's not like players seek out drawing yellow cards.  Typically they come from aggressive challenges that go awry -- either the player arrives late and doesn't get to the ball first or is a bit out of control and bashes into an opponent too hard.  Malice doesn't usually come into it, even with the most frequent offenders.  There just is too much at stake -- such as causing your team to play a man down (and that hurt Arsenal against arch-rival Tottenham a few weeks ago).

But because it doesn't seem that the NFL ever will force a team to play a man down, suspensions and fines must follow.  Those would underscore the NFL's wish that flagrant fouls cease, such as the one that Bengals' linebacker Vontez Burfick committed against Antonio Brown of the Steelers in the AFC playoffs just several months ago.  (And, in this case, Burfick was suspended for several games).  Sure, the games are different.  Soccer can be rough but usually doesn't not involve the collisions that populate the NFL landscape.  And perhaps that's because soccer players don't wear combat armor.  In any case, the NFL has taken a positive step forward to ensure more safety for players and lessen the risk that any player will have to miss a game because of the overexuberance or excessive force of an opponent.

Change is hard, and, naturally, there has been some hue and cry from players that the NFL might as well make this a two-hand touch game.  Given the evidence out there about CTE and long-term health of former players, the trend is in that direction.  That said, with enough money and creativity behind the NFL, it is probably that those who run it will evolve the game into something that continues to draw fans while, concurrently, making the game safer for those who play it.

Otherwise, like dinosaurs, the NFL will become extinct.

Even if it is on top now.


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