NFL Injury Time Outs

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Realistic rating: 8.5

Throughout the 2013 NFL season, we’ve seen numerous instances of defensive players faking injuries in attempts to give their defense a breather. However, it appears we’ve seen far more instances of injuries that fans mistakenly believe to be fake, provoking a torrential downpour of boos for a guy who’s actually writhing on the ground in 100% legitimate pain. The NFL has literally done the least they could in an attempt to fix this, but sending out a mere memo asking coaches and fans to stop questioning injuries isn’t likely to do much.

Faking injuries is nothing new, but with the growth of no-huddle offenses, it seems to be a growing (and more rewarding) trend. However, this trend has also increased the number of fraudulent booing incidents, which are especially damning for a league trying to emphasize safety.

The NFL already has a rule in place for the officials to call injury time outs. According to Rule 4, Section 5, Article 3 in the rulebook:

When an injury timeout is called, the injured player must leave the game for the completion of one down. The player will be permitted to remain in the game if:

(a) either team calls a charged team timeout;

(b) the injury is the result of a foul by an opponent; or

(c) the period ends or the two-minute warning occurs before the next snap.

However, a single player missing only one down does not seem like enough of a penalty to dissuade teams from the reward of stopping the clock and giving their defense a much-needed breather. I feel like there are a few very simple unobtrusive solutions to this issue:

1. Don’t stop the clock when a player is injured.

Why do the refs stop the clock when a player is injured in the NFL? This doesn’t happen in the NBA or NHL. Teams have to call timeout If one of their players is injured. I don’t see why the NFL should be any different. (And teams wouldn’t necessarily have to use a TO. Unlike basketball and hockey, football is not a free-flowing game, and there is ample time to sub players in and out between plays.)

2. Give each team a certain number of “injury timeouts.”

These can be used any point during the game, allowing the medical staff to stop the clock and aid an injured player. However, during these injury TOs, the coach is not allowed to talk with anyone but the injured player, and the players on the field must remain there and not go to the sidelines to talk with coaches (thus preventing “injury TOs” from being abused as a standard TO.) Also, one facet of these injury TOs could be that if they are used in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter, then there is an automatic 10-second run-off (also to prevent abuse of injury TOs as standard TOs.)

3. If teams need to stop the clock to investigate an injured player, then that player must sit out five plays or the rest of the drive.

Here you get the best of both worlds in both dissuading a team from faking injuries and also, in the case of real injury, making the game safer by mandating they have proper time to get checked out and recuperate before re-entering the game.

—-

The problem with the first three proposals is that they put the judgement for injuries into the hands of a biased party—the team itself. However, there are already independent neurological consultants on the sidelines of every NFL game—removed from the incentive to win games—to determine if players have been concussed and need to be taken out. It seems as though an independent general medical practitioner could also be present to make these same assessments on injuries of all types. (However, they would have to make snap medical judgements from the sidelines, which may be impossible.) This goes back to the current rule, which seems that the best solution may be:

4. (A hybrid of the current rule and #3) The referees (or an independent “game doctor”) determine if a player is injured, and he must sit out five plays or the rest of the drive.

Of course, the counter to all of these proposals is that if there is any (however small) “penalty” or opportunity cost to a team needing to sub out an injured player, then injured players will ignore pain rather than seeking medical help, thus adding more danger to an already very dangerous game. However, these minor “injury penalty” policies have always been in existence in just about every sport, as players have to determine if they’re healthy enough to start or re-enter games. I feel like after a year or so of these kinds of policies in football, it wouldn’t be viewed as un-macho or shameful for an injured player to jog off for a sub, ask his team to use one of their “injury time outs,” or volunteer to sit out the rest of a drive to seek proper medical attention. Perhaps I’m putting too much faith in the amenability of modern NFL warrior culture.

Bottom line: The NFL already has this rule 95% of the way implemented. Only a minor tweaking is needed.

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