SI Vault
Tex Maule
September 18, 1972
Heading into 1972, the game has problems. The question is, when will its proprietors wake up and do something?
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September 18, 1972

Time To Take Stock

Heading into 1972, the game has problems. The question is, when will its proprietors wake up and do something?

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Whenever possible, however, the choice of surface should be decided by the league. That should mean the commissioner. If the statistical results are bad, the NFL is going to have to make the hard decision to return to grass. But will it? Change is coming more slowly in football these days, and when it does come, it often is so slight as to be almost unnoticeable. This year, for example, looking for a way to produce more action and more touchdowns, now that defenses have become so effective, the NFL owners decided to move the hash marks seven and a fraction yards nearer to midfield (SI, Aug. 28). During the exhibition games—excuse that, Pete—preseason games—there were plenty of high scores, but to what extent the repositioning works can be determined only under regular game conditions, when the rookies are on the bench and everybody is trying.

Putting the ball in play farther from each sideline supposedly gives the offense more room to exercise its options. But it also becomes more seductive to try a field goal, since the kicker has less of an angle for his attempt. There may be more blah plays in pro football than the field goal, but it would be difficult to find them. A 50-yard field goal is a true negation of the whole philosophy of the game, since it rewards the attacking team for its inability to move the ball and militates against an exciting gamble by the offense for a first down or a touchdown.

If the pooh-bahs of the NFL—and/or Rozelle—want to soup up the attack, they can try other tactics. First, they can increase the penalty for a missed field goal by returning an unsuccessful attempt to the place from where it was kicked, not to the 20-yard line of the defending team. That for sure would force attacking teams either to go for the first down or to punt. Second, relax the rule on men in motion before the snap of the ball and take a maple leaf from the Canadian league, where the backs are permitted to go in motion in any direction before the ball is snapped. This is a simple rule that very well could destroy zone defenses and revive the long pass as well as increase the deception and effectiveness of the running attack.

Third, bring back the two-point conversion used by the AFL in its infancy and by colleges. To pro football coaches, the two-pointer is anathema, understandably. Second-guessing an unsuccessful run or pass for a two-point conversion is the easiest of all chores for a Monday morning quarterback. But it keeps suspense alive in close games and eliminates, to an extent, the importance of a late field goal that puts a team ahead by eight points and out of reach of a touchdown.

Fourth, play all games to a sudden death overtime. No one enjoys a tie. The NFL might even consider trying another method for settling ties—give each team the ball for six offensive plays beginning at the 50-yard line and award the victory to the club that gains the most yardage.

The NFL most likely will not try any of these moves this year. With a few exceptions the ownership—the league is beginning its 53rd year—more and more resembles its counterpart in baseball, afflicted with such diseases of age as hardening of the head.

There still is an enormous amount of enthusiasm among pro football's followers, but if the game is to continue to grow in popularity, the time has come for change.

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