The sports world is abuzz with the news that some folks with big money (including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban) are planning on launching a new professional football league to compete with the NFL. I’m wondering whether they’ll institute any rule changes to make the league a real alternative to the NFL and college football. The rules of football are ripe for innovation. One problem with the NFL is that the optimal strategies for success are pretty well understood. I’d love to see a league come into existence with rules that diverge enough from the NFL rules to foster real innovation in football tactics. It would also help the league compete for talent by creating jobs for college football players who don’t fit into the NFL mold for their position for whatever reason.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Prohibitions on most of the protective gear NFL players wear these days, specifically hard helmets and face masks. Fans love the high speed collisions in the NFL, but they’re horrible for the long term health of the players. Bringing the violence level of football to the level of rugby violence would be an improvement.
- Diminishing the degree of specialization in the NFL. One advantage sports like hockey, basketball, and soccer have over football is that players must exhibit a variety of skills to succeed. In professional football, specialization is out of control. Guys who can play right offensive tackle aren’t able to play left offensive tackle. The idea that most guards could play tackle on a successful team is unthinkable. The problems are the same on defense. Teams look for different types of players to play middle linebacker, strong side linebacker, and weak side linebacker. Demanding more athleticism from linemen and requiring all players to exhibit a wider variety of skills could be an improvement.
- The safest, most effective strategy at every level of football is a mixed offense featuring a solid running game and a controlled passing game that features a high completion percentage. At the college level, you see a wider variety of offenses, but not from top tier teams. There are a million small rules that could be tweaked to encourage greater diversity in tactics.
I’m all for a new football league, especially if it means changing up the rule book to create a new kind of football.