Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Back to Basics

This post should start a new and (very?) occasional series of posts that come to me when I realize a forum response I think I'd want to write is careening off the rails, both in regards to length and content; here we go.

There are apparently four new American Football ("Gridiron") leagues planning to start up in the next year, and I have to admit I'd only heard of the first two on the list:
  • -The UFL, planning to play in the Fall on Friday nights, and backed by, among others, Dallas Mavericks and would-be Chicago Cubs owner Mark Cuban.
  • -The AAFL, which plans to play in spring in or near college towns, have territorial rights for teams to grab players from nearby schools, and require those players to have college degrees.
  • -The New USFL, which somehow claims to be a direct descendant of the 1980s experiment that brought us Herschel Walker, Steve Young, and three-dollar antitrust judgments. The new league seems to care about as much for the traditions of the game as WWE's XFL did.
  • -The UNGL, which had its Wikipedia page deleted and has logos, but no team locations or names. This one is just confusing and looks more like some graphic designer's fantasy league than a legitimate organization.
I think one of these leagues (I'll nominate UFL as it's the only one I think might play more than one season's worth of games) should take a few small steps back towards gridiron's heritage (including its distant shared ancestry with soccer) and get away from the overly coach-centric mentality the NFL has developed. Obviously, no one wants to return to the bad old days of inadequate protective gear and no substitutes, but there's a chance here for legitimate product differentiation that I for one would appreciate, especially since none of these leagues will be attracting top talent, especially if they all somehow managed to be active at the same time. Namely, I would recommend the following:
  1. No TV timeouts. If there's no on-field reason to stop, then for god's sake don't stop. Gridiron already gives you plenty of chances to go to commercial. The timeouts that occur immediately after the kickoff after a score (i.e. ONE play after you got back from the last commercial break) are particularly galling and slow the game down.
  2. No telecommunications gear in the helmets. When you do that, you might as well give the coaches a couple of Joysticks and mount electric motors to the players asses. If you can't get your play in with hand signals or a messenger guard, then let the QB call the damn thing.
  3. Only players can call timeouts. The game is supposed to be 11v11. At least keep it that way on the field.
  4. Strangely enough, I am a fan of instant replay in Gridiron, as the stop-start nature of the game allows it to be used with minimal disruption, but have the reviews done by the officials, as in college, and not via coaches' challenges. If I want to see a contest between two grumpy, middle-aged assholes, I'll watch chess. This is supposed to be a sport. This would also allow institutionalization of the unwritten rule that only significant plays should challenged (e.g. scoring plays, 1st down conversions, and turnovers).
I'm sure I'll think of more as the NFL and College seasons unfold, but there's a start. I'm open to suggestions.

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