Why an NFL auction would be far superior to a draft—for players, teams, and fans

NFL Draft lioRealistic rating: 8.0

Pretty much every astute fantasy player knows that auctions are far superior to drafts. Here are the three primary reasons:

1. More fair: If there’s a superstar head-and-shoulders above everyone else, then a team with the first pick in a fantasy draft lucks into a huge advantage. Conversely, if the top players are about equal, then the team with the first pick is at a disadvantage, since the teams picking behind him are still getting roughly the same caliber of player in the first round, and then that team has to pick last in the 2nd round. It all comes down to random luck of the distribution of player talent.

This randomness disappears in an auction, where there isn’t any lucky advantage or unlucky disadvantage to be gleaned from having particular picks. Every team has the opportunity to pick every player and to pay exactly how much they believe that player to be worth. Because of this, auctions are much more liquid then drafts, as auction dollars are a much more granular measure of value than draft picks.

2. More research/availability: In drafts, if you have the first pick, you’re pretty much locked into taking Peyton, AP, or one of the other handful of elite RBs. That’s all you really have to think about. On the other end of the spectrum, if you have the last pick, it doesn’t matter what your opinion of AP is. If you think he’s going to have the greatest rushing season in NFL history, you don’t have any opportunity to put your money where your mouth is (unless you trade picks, which seems to be a rare occurrence due to the aforementioned liquidity problem).

3. More strategy: There’s an element of strategy in auctions that isn’t very prevalent in drafts. At any given time, the number of teams that need a particular position and the total money is left across the league has enormous implications on the values of players, causing them to constantly fluctuate—and teams can do things (whether that be nominating specific players or positions or driving up the price on certain auctions) to manipulate those fluctuations to preferred conditions.

Application to the NFL (and NBA/MLB/NHL)

These draft issues are largely prevalent in the NFL too. While many teams do trade picks, the vast majority simply pick from where they’ve been assigned in the draft order, which surely doesn’t fit with their specific values/needs if they had the choice.

For example, only a handful of teams at the top of the draft were really researching the likes Jadeveon Clowney as they were the only teams with the means to select him. Thus, more likely than not, the Texans did not value Clowney more than every one of the other 31 teams, yet they still ended up with him. In fact, it’s highly likely that the vast majority of the 256 players drafted did not go to the NFL franchise which actually valued them the most. Again, the less liquid nature of drafts creates market inefficiencies. Auctions are the opposite. With each bidding party having a very granular amount of funds, they can pick and choose exactly how much they value each player available, and players will go to the teams that value them most the vast majority of the time.

Proposal I: Auction draft

Let’s say each NFL team had an allotted amount of auction “money” (I say “money” because it would be a nominal amount) with the worst team from the previous season having the most money to spend and the Super Bowl winner having the least.

Let’s say we use the modified draft pick value chart created by the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective. Here, I’ve totaled the values of the seven picks each team is currently allotted based on their draft order. I’ve then multiplied that sum by 10 to have a more granular “dollar” amount. If these draft picks were converted into auction dollars, here’s how each team’s starting funds would look:

NFL Auction Values

As you can see, there’s a steadily declining distribution of funds down the auction chain. But how can this change things in practice? Here are some examples:

Kansas City was assigned the 23rd overall pick in the 2014 draft based on their 2013 record, and they selected a defensive end with that pick—but say they really loved Clowney and were willing to pay much more for him. As draft picks aren’t very liquid, it might be hard to find a trade that’s fair for both sides. In an auction, though, Kansas City can simply decide to allocate as much of its budget as it wants toward Clowney, and if Houston decides to match, then they have greater starting funds with which to outbid them.

Or say Houston, which has many holes to fill, decided not to spend a big portion of their budget on Clowney and take the standard one each of a 1st-, 2nd-, 3rd-, 4th-, 5th-, 6th-, and 7th-round caliber players. They could instead spend their $10,727 on seven 2nd round-caliber players (i.e. the 33-64th best players available; avg cost $1502) allowing them to plug in a very solid player at many different slots.

(In fantasy, this is known as the “stars and scrubs” vs. balanced roster strategies, but these plans have much more adaptability to NFL teams, which must account for their already rostered players when drafting rather than starting from scratch like most fantasy leagues.)

And in terms of strategy, a team highly coveting a WR might decide to nominate stud QBs early, in the hopes of depleting other teams’ funds and driving down the cost of WRs.

The process

The auction would work by rotating which teams could nominate players, with a nomination requiring a minimum starting bid of, say, $10 and a minimum $1 raise. All 32 teams could buzz in, and the auction would end after 20 seconds of no higher bids. (Let’s pretend there’s no high frequency trading “Flash Boys” going on here—although that would definitely be something Bill Belichick would love to explore.) Then the next team would nominate a player, and the process would continue until every team was out of funds.

As far as broadcasting, don’t worry, Mr. $25 billion commissioner, there could still be a Thursday night primetime show in which the best players are selected. According to the Harvard study, the 32nd pick is worth 200.3 points, or $2003 in auction money. For the first night, each team would nominate a player, but the minimum bid on that player would be $1500 so as to ensure it’s all big names coming off the board. (Personally, I’d rather not have this de facto “first round,” since auctions are more fun and strategic when some studs are still lurking on the board late, but it’d obviously be hard for the NFL to pass up a free night of primetime TV rights.)

One of the best things about this is that you could in theory speed up the draft, because trading would be rendered almost entirely irrelevant (i.e. No team no longer has to trade up to get a guy.) This absence of trades would mean that you wouldn’t have to allocate much time between auctions. At the same time, though, there could be many more than 256 players drafted in an auction format.

Some other notes:

  • Compensatory picks could easily still be awarded in this auction, simply by calculating their value and adding them to each team’s total funds.
  • Draft money could easily be traded during the season and might facilitate more trades. Say two teams can’t find even ground. If they each had an auction money allocation, one could easily kick in a bit to smooth out any deal.

Finally, here’s the best reason for an auction: Who wouldn’t want to see Jerry Jones blow half his budget on Day 1 on some pricey college star?

From the players’ point of view

Auctions would be much more fair for the players as well. With the draft, rookie salaries are largely pre-slotted by each draft position, without much regard for discrepancies in actual value.

For example, in 2012, Robert Griffin and Andrew Luck were the consensus top two picks and were huge outliers in terms of talent/value compared to the rest of the draft. Yet, due to the rigid rookie pay scale, they only received a marginal pay upgrade over the No. 3 pick Trent Richardson. In an auction, rookie salaries could be scaled by the amount of auction money spent on them, making it a big more meritocratic. If the next Andrew luck comes along and causes a team to splurge $3,000 auction on him, his rookie salary would be in proportion to that amount.

Proposal II: Free agency

This idea’s a bit more radical: How about no draft or auction whatsoever—and instead players coming out of college are simply free agents who can sign with any team? An obvious objection would be that the best players would simply sign with the best teams, and the bad teams would stay bad in perpetuity, but is that really the case?

Teams that are rebuilding would allocate much more of their salary caps to prospects coming up from college, whereas contenders in “win now” mentality probably wouldn’t want to tie up much of their cap on young prospects who could take years to develop into their prime. Also, thanks to a hard salary cap, no team could horde all the best talent.

Another thing to consider is that teams are in a constant state of roster turnover. As great as the Broncos and Seahawks are today, every one of the players on their roster will have become a free agent in the next five years. Because the NFL isn’t anywhere near as star-driven as the NBA, and the best players aren’t global icons that want to gravitate toward NYC, LA, and other “prestige” cities, complete free agency isn’t something out of the realm of possibility in terms of competitive balance.

And from the players’ point of view, it’s probably the most fair of all, as they aren’t locked into playing for a particular team or for a particular salary. (Of course, since college players don’t have a seat at the bargaining table when it comes to negotiating the NFL CBA, they receive the extremely raw end of the deal and will continue to as long as current NFL players are the only players with a voice.)

The death blow to this free agency plan, though, is that it would remove a big prime time ratings event from the NFL’s annual TV calendar, which Commissioner 18 Games probably wouldn’t be too happy about.

Bottom line: In a vacuum, complete free agency seems like the way to go. An auction is pretty close, though, and certainly a lot more entertaining. Not only would a auction make draft night more fun and fair for fans, it’d also help during the season in facilitating more trades. And on top of all that, it’s more fair for the players too. Seems like a win-win-win.

Why doesn’t the NFL stagger games every hour on Sundays like March Madness?

There's a better way to do this.

There’s a better way to do this.

Realistic rating: 8.0

After being transfixed by the first two days of the NCAA tournament, in which games are starting/ending every hour all day (a scheduling format that somehow wasn’t implemented until only a few years ago), my first thought was, “Hmm, what other sports league has 16 games to broadcast each week, pretty much all on the same day…”

I’ve long had many issues with the NFL’s weekly schedule. I’ve never understood why every Sunday the league always dumps a whopping 8-10 games at 1 p.m. and only three at 4 p.m. (four if we’re lucky). After 10-game chaos during the early slate, which makes it impossible to keep track of everything around the league, RedZone abruptly screeches to a halt around 4:15. Plus, there’s a giant vortex of nothing from 7:30-8:30 between the late games and Sunday Night Football (not to mention the vortexes at 2:30 and 5:30 when each slate of games’ halftimes align).

The NFL could certainly stand to spread out its games a bit more. Now ideally, this would include Fridays and Saturdays, but because of an anti-trust agreement, the NFL isn’t allowed to broadcast games those days, a measure in place to prevent the pro ranks’ cannibalization of high school and college football. (This rule seems pretty dumb. The NFL is only one of thousands of entertainment options that compete with high school and college football viewership. It’s not like they prohibit movies from being shown on Saturday afternoons. Imagine how much NBC’s already low ratings would plummet if they prevented The Voice from airing on certain nights to protect other shows. But I digress…)

However, if we must operate under the (dumb) limit of only having NFL games on Thursdays, Sundays, and Mondays, here’s how each week could be scheduled…

(All times EST)

Thursday

Game 1: 8:00 p.m.

Sunday

Game 2: 11:00 a.m.

Game 3: 12:00 p.m.

Game 4: 1:00 p.m.

Game 5: 2: 00 p.m.

Game 6: 3:00 p.m.

Game 7: 4: 00 p.m.

Game 8: 5:00 p.m.

Game 9: 6:00 p.m.

Game 10: 7:00 p.m.

Game 11: 8:00 p.m.

Game 12: 9:00 p.m.

Game 13: 10:00 p.m.

Monday

Game 14: 7:00 p.m.

Game 15: 8:00 p.m.

Game 16: 9:00 p.m.

That’s right, a MNF triple header! And this is only for the eight weeks in which all 32 teams are playing. For bye weeks, you could easily take out the 8 p.m. MNF game, the late 10 p.m. Sunday, and/or the early 11 a.m. Sunday games.

Now, this might seem so obvious that there surely has to be a reason the NFL hasn’t done it already, right? One reason might be that the primetime deals with NBC, ESPN, and now CBS are far more lucrative when they’re stand-alone games, but surely the price the NFL charges for these rights wouldn’t be cut by more than half if it came with the caveat that there was another game at that time on a different channel. Plus, as the NFL learned from some unspeakably dreadful MNF match-ups this season—and even one SNF one despite flex scheduling (Giants-Redskins), it’s probably a good idea to have some backup in case there are some clunkers.

I suppose the FOX and CBS might also want a designated time to synchronously broadcast halftime shows, but are Jimmy, Terry, Howie, and the gang really so invaluable to prevent implementation of PERPETUAL Sunday football?

And sure, the NFL likes its “Game of the Week” at 4 p.m., but it already has a Thursday, Sunday, and Monday national game (and under my proposal, would have multiple Monday night games). Plus, it’s not like the NFL can’t designate the 4 p.m. game as the “Game of the Week” and nationally broadcast it for all the markets who don’t have a local game at that time.

And while a staggered slate might be more difficult for CBS/FOX to schedule for a national audience, I figure each local area will still get its local game at its designated time, with CBS/FOX filling in the rest of the time as they so choose in each market.

Bottom line: Even if the league did want stand-alone primetime games, there’s no reason the afternoon slate couldn’t be staggered. And the best part? They can still run RedZone, only now all day!
—-

The mind-blowingly obvious solution to “instant” replay

Scott Green, instant replay

Why must this charade continue?

Realistic rating: 9.5

There was much consternation last season about the inability to review penalty and missed penalty calls. Rightfully so. There were tons of critical penalties that were called or not called, many of which likely decided key games (e.g. Panthers-Patriots defensive holding no-call, Saints-49ers roughing the passer call, etc.)

The classification of what’s reviewable certainly does seem arbitrary, and the “challenge anything” movement appears to be building momentum. Sadly, though, a solution doesn’t seem to be forthcoming. Here are Tuesday’s comments from St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, a member of the NFL’s competition committee:

“We discuss replay every year,” Fisher said. “I think we go back to the foundation of the replay system, it was designed to overturn an obvious error. We knew it was not going to be a perfect system, just from a time standpoint and a number of challenges standpoint. I think that will be discussed but I think it’s unlikely we move in the direction of penalties. That’s a hard thing to do. The only penalty that’s actually reviewable on the field is too many men on the field. I think once we look at penalties you’re asking for problems.”

Fisher’s first sentence immediately sets off my “but this is the way we’ve always done it!!!” dumb argument siren. Secondly, the “solution” for time concerns doesn’t make much sense. Rather than arbitrarily deciding what kinds of calls can and cannot be challenged, if one really wanted to limit replay time, it seems much more reasonable to simply limit the number of reviews. (For example, the vast majority of touchdowns and turnovers are pretty obvious, so it’s odd that the NFL has decided to automatically booth review all of these.)

The bigger thing, though, is that these time concerns are only an issue because of the current review system, in which a referee must trot over to a tiny monitor tent and manually replay the video for a seemingly endless amount of time.  Why is it called “instant replay” when the process is anything but “instant”? We currently live in a sporting world in which the millions of fans watching at home know the correct call long before the only guys who actually have the authority to make a decision. How absurd is that? How many times have you been sitting at home watching a game, watched a play live, seen a replay five seconds later that immediately clarifies what the correct call should be, and then…. Have to wait five minutes and a full commercial break while a ref to trots over to some cramped replay booth to look at the play on some tiny screen.

There’s such an obvious solution to assuage just about any concerns about accuracy and speed that it’s really quite shocking that no major sports league has implemented this idea yet:

Have the refs make all the calls. Have them all wear earpieces connected to a centralized review station. Have the review station—which watches the games on crystal clear HD monitors with slow motion replay—instantly radio in any wrong calls, and have the refs at the stadium quickly and seamlessly correct them as needed.

For example, if a ref throws a flag for holding, the the review booth immediately sees upon (actual) instant replay that there shouldn’t have been any call, they can instantly radio down to the crew chief to pick up the flag. Ditto for a player stepping out of bounds, a pass interference no-call, or just about any ruling.

This is of course assuming leagues are unwilling to install cheap and 100 percent accurate lasers or RFID tag technology that could (even more) instantly determine a large majority of calls. If we must accept that human eyes must determine all calls (for those who prefer on human eyes to machines, I hope you’re not an airline pilot, brain surgeon, or election ballot counter), then this replay format seems like a no-brainer.

Bottom line: The “instantly radio down any corrections” solution seems incredibly easy to implement. Hopefully, some day soon, a league will adopt it. (Or, you know, lasers.)

Update: After publishing this, I noticed that Brian Billick made a similar argument two years ago. Brian Billick! Who knew? Sadly, if this idea has been out there for two years with no progress, it’s not looking too great in the short-term…

Is 1st-and-11 really an effective way to curtail offenses?

imagerollover_1st10_tech_1


Drew Magary had an interesting idea on Deadspin yesterday about how to curtail record-setting NFL offenses: Make 1st downs 11 yards rather than 10.

This got me thinking about our society’s enslavement to base-10 principles (and how if we really wanted to keep with that enslavement, we should just go full metric and switch to 1st-and-10 meters, since 11 yards is roughly 10 meters.)

But is an increased frequency of first downs really the reason offenses are becoming so unstoppable? The data suggests otherwise. Via SportingCharts.com, here’s the data since 1992 on the percentage of drives that go three-and-out plotted against the average drives per season per team. (Admittedly, the three-and-out rate probably isn’t the best statistic to measure this, but it’s the best I could dig up and should pretty well mirror 1st down conversion rates.)

Drives Chart

As you can see, the three-and-out percentage has remained pretty steady the past few years but has dropped about half a percentage point from the early 2000s.

What has steadily risen over the last five years, though, is the total number of drives per team. This leads me to believe that offenses aren’t improving because teams continually pick up first downs but rather because they are scoring more quickly. This increased pace could be due to a few things: more yards per play, more passing plays (so the clock stops), or simply wasting less of the play clock.

I doubt the third reason (clock wasting) has much weight, but it certainly seems the first two (increased pace, more passing plays) play a big role in the increased number of drives.

So with this knowledge, how would I propose fixing this issue?

Probably just lengthen the field to 110 yards rather than change the distance necessary for a first down. Or conversely, I might suggest narrowing the field from 53 yards wide to 50 to combat the effects of spread offenses. (I remember seeing an argument somewhere recently that the spread offense has led to fewer injuries. I’d probably disagree… Sure, more players can find space and avoid contact, but the spread also allows both offensive and defensive players to use that space to gain more momentum and allow for bigger hits.)

So… Is this even an issue that needs fixing? Probably not. As long as there’s a solid balance between scoring drives and non-scoring drives, and it’s not skewed too far in either direction (i.e. making punting irrelevant), then the (slight) rise of offenses is fine by me. Sure, it might skew the data and make simple aggregate yard historical comparisons difficult, but that’s what z-scores are for.

Eliminating NFL Overtime

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Realistic rating: 4.5

After the Week 12 Packers-Vikings game ended in a tie, making 2012-13 the first back-to-back seasons with ties since 1988-89, there was again much consternation about games ending in ties and how THIS IS AMERICA. TIES ARE FOR EUROPEAN PUSSIES.

Emerging from all the noise condemning the NFL’s OT rules was a very reasoned response by AdvancedNFLStats’ Brian Burke, who argued that the NFL’s current rules were poorly structured because they are contradictory to the extra period’s goal of avoiding ties while also prolonging the additional period.

This seems like a bit of a tautology, though. “______ is bad because it doesn’t deter the likelihood of what we’ve defined as bad.” But why are ties or prolonged OT periods something to avoid? (For a much less nuanced take on this debate, the increasingly irrelevant Sporting News offered a #HotSportsTake that basically says, “The current OT rules are bad because ties are bad,” and then goes on for many more paragraphs to basically say, “Ties are bad because teams don’t want to tie.”)

While everyone seems to focus on how to simplify the NFL overtime rules, here’s my proposal for the most simple solution: Not have overtime at all. Just end the game in a tie if it’s deadlocked after 60 minutes.

Because the NFL season is only 16 games (i.e. each game represents 6.25% of the season), it is the only sport that can accommodate (and in my opinion, should welcome) ties without significantly diminishing game-to-game excitement. In the NFL, a large swath of teams routinely miss the playoffs, earn first round playoff byes, are assigned different playoff seeding, or see major shifts in draft position by a difference of a single game, and not all games are created equal. The Cowboys’ Week 8 final possession nail-biter loss to the Lions counts the exact same in the standings as their 49-17 blowout loss to the Saints two weeks later.

The fact is that wins and losses are binary outcomes that are not nearly granular enough to truly determine the better team in a season that only produces 16 such outcomes. (In 82- and 162-game seasons, this binary outcome is not only tolerable, but necessary, as any more granularity would further sap the already-small level of game-to-game excitement.) There’s a reason statisticians don’t really look at wins and losses when analyzing teams. (Sadly, many fans and “experts” don’t even use wins and losses, but something far less granular to evaluate teams: championships.)

Now for those concerned about seeing a standings filled with records like 10-3-3 and 7-5-4, that hysteria is very overblown. Only about 7% of all NFL games go to overtime, or roughly one per season for every team. While relatively rare, ties would have the benefit presenting the standings as a slightly better depiction of a team’s actual body of work for each season.

The other big thing to consider here is injury risk and fatigue. Is it fair for a two teams to have to play an extra period, risking injuries to all their players and also further wearing them out for next weeks’ game? Overtime in a sport as violent as the NFL is almost a prisoner’s dilemma situation in which it would be mutually beneficial for both deadlocked teams to simply agree to a coin flip to determine the winner rather than for each of them to risk incurring negative effects on their respective futures.

So rather than trying to fix the OT rules many people seem to despise so much, let’s just leave them for this weekend’s games and the rest of the postseason.

Bottom line: This likely wouldn’t happen because of the heavily ingrained cultural aversion to dreaded ties. The only foreseeable way the NFL would eliminate OT is if the sport became so dangerous that any additional time playing the game was thought to be reason to avoid it.

Can the best college team really challenge the worst NFL team? Let’s find out!

Case+Keenum+Jacksonville+Jaguars+v+Houston+yimElzqSagkl

 Realistic rating: 2.5

Every year, the question always comes up from talking sports heads, writers, and fans: “Could the [best college football team] beat the [worst NFL team]”? All the questioning is mostly facetious, but it’s become so prevalent, and such a matter of intrigue, that it begs the question… Why not actually do it and once and for all find out?

The biggest reason it wouldn’t happen (or be worthwhile) under current circumstances? The NFL team would have no incentive to play. Why risk injury? Plus, there’s no upside. If they win, they only do what they’re expected in crushing a bunch of college kids. If they lose, they’re eternally humiliated.

These aren’t unfixable problems.

Let’s say the NFL were to propose a rule in the next CBA that the worst team in the league must play the BCS National Champion in a game held the Saturday between the conference championship games and Super Bowl (i.e. the day before the Pro Bowl.)

The game would be held at the recently crowed BCS championship team’s home stadium. This location would be because the college team’s fans would be the ones most willing to come out and cheer for a team to win in such a game (don’t think many Texans fans would be pumped to cheer on their team to avoid a humiliating loss), and it would also give the college fans a kind of de facto homecoming celebration for the returning conquerors, as the BCS National Championship Game could easily have taken place across the country.

Here’s the kicker to incentivize the pro team to win*, though: If the NFL team loses, its No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft moves back five slots and becomes the No. 6. It’s a penalty significant enough for the team to prepare for the game and play hard while really not being draconian, especially considering the somewhat crapshoot nature of the NFL draft and the a recent quantification of draft pick value by the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective.

*Players on the NFL team will be paid a pro-rated stipend based on their salary that season for their extra week of work. (Players on the NCAA team will continue to be “paid” with, well, more textbooks and knowledge.)

The NFL and NCAA could split the ticket, merchandising, sponsorship, and TV revenue 50/50. (A bulk of each league’s half would go to each representative in the game.) One could imagine such a game generating quite a lot of viewership, especially compared to the Pro Bowl audience the next day. Given the event-ization and unique nature of such a contest, it’s quite reasonable to suggest its ratings being on par with a typical NBC Sunday Night Football game, which sells ads at a rate of $500,000 per 30 seconds. One of the NFL’s many broadcast partners would probably pony up quite a bit for those kinds of figures.

The other wrinkle in this idea is that, due to the humiliation of playing in such a game and also the risk of downgrading a draft pick, it de-incentivizes NFL teams from tanking to get the No. 1 pick. (Although it should be noted that this side bonus is pretty minimal, as tanking in is nowhere near as prevalent in the NFL as it is in the NBA due to the fact that so many more NFL players are on shorter non-guaranteed contracts, and playing for that next paycheck.)

The thing to remember here is that the NFL team is going to win the vast majority of the time, so the draft pick penalty will come into play only once every couple of decades. (Although we can’t know that for sure since, you know, this game doesn’t exist yet.) Plus, if the NFL team is leading by a few scores early (a very likely possibility), they can just sub out their highly paid starters and minimize their injury potential.

**Addendum: This idea might work better for basketball, where the relative injury risk each game isn’t very high compared to football. All the principles are still in play, though. (Although since high draft picks are much more valuable in the NBA, the penalty for losing would have to be more along the lines of only 2-3 draft spots back.)

Bottom line: This idea will almost certainly never happen due to complaints from the NFL player’s union as well as some hypocritical NCAA stance on having “amateurs” be tainted by playing on the same field as “professionals.” That doesn’t mean this idea wouldn’t work in theory (and also be a profitable investment for the NFL and NCAA), though.

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.