Scapegoat No. 5—Heavy competition. Publicly, the ABC people will tell you that all network telecasting is down, not just football, because of all the cable stuff and the home VCRs. But how come after nine weeks last year, Monday Night Football—from 9:00 to 11:00 p.m., the truly competitive slot—was ahead of NBC and CBS, and this year it's No. 3?
"The Burning Bed on NBC," one ABC guy says. "They threw a blockbuster at us." C'mon now. They always threw biggies at you, and the Monday night game always overcame it. The network guys feel bitter about having to sign a five-year, $2.1 billion NFL package that was keyed to the record ratings year of 1981. The next contract, which will be negotiated after the '86 season, will be more modest, they say, if the ratings continue to slip. "But," one guy says, "there's always the hidden fear that Pete Rozelle will come up with some shot in the arm to bring the ratings back in the last year of the contract."
Such is the mystique and power that the Commissioner's office can exert to cloud men's minds. What shot in the arm? But what's on the horizon?
"We've always had peaks and valleys," Rozelle says. "In a lot of ways the high ratings in '81 were pure luck. Just like the bad luck now of having blowouts on Monday night TV. One change I would make would be to shorten the games. Our Competition Committee will get into that. Another would be to promote the game more strongly, to take it to 'em."
So much for scapegoats. I've come up with some remedies, and basically they address the structure of football. Some of them involve radical surgery, some are just a nip and tuck to firm things up—where needed.
?No. 1—Change the scoring. Field goals are weighted too heavily. Put a premium on scoring touchdowns by making an 18-to 29-yard field goal (snapped from the one-to 12-yard line) worth only one point, a 30-to 45-yarder worth two and anything over 45 worth three. Now when a team gets stopped on the one, it kicks a field goal. Why should that be worth three-sevenths of what a TD and the extra point would have been worth? The true value for giving up should be one-seventh. And change the overtime rules. A team must win by either a touchdown or a three-point field goal (of 46 yards or more). Also, put in the two-point conversion. Give the coaches some real strategy decisions to make.
?No. 2—No more mass substitutions after every down. Limit it to one sub per team per play, except for injuries. Make the guys on the field play football—in all sorts of different situations. The 49ers' coach, Bill Walsh, brought this up at the last league meetings, but it never got any farther than the suggestion stage.
?No. 3—Penalize the offensive linemen for pushing off on a running play. It isn't football, it's "belly-bumping," as Colt coach Frank Kush calls it. This will cripple the running game, you say? Not likely. What it'll do is make linemen learn the drive-block skills that were once an integral part of football, and eventually the running game will be better, because most defensive linemen are pass-rush oriented and play too high anyway. They're suckers for a drive block.
?No. 4—Safety. An offensive player shouldn't be able to cut-block a defensive lineman unless he's face up with him. No more legalized clipping along the line of scrimmage. Clipping is a penalty when it's done in the open, and it should be in tight, too. There's no more vicious technique in football. Let's have an eye-for-an-eye rule. If a guy puts an opponent out of action on an illegal shot, suspend him for the same number of games the injured player misses.
And phase out artificial turf—17 of the NFL's 28 teams have it on their home fields—over a three-year period. There isn't a player in the game who doesn't feel it's dangerous. The Lions' Billy Sims tore up his knee on the Minneapolis Metrodome's artificial field. "That turf is about as hard as this," Detroit coach Monte Clark said, rapping his knuckles on a Formica-covered table. "There's no cushion on it or nothing. It's like a cheap house rug." Get rid of those carpets. They shouldn't be part of football. If science can't come up with a strain of grass that can grow in the indoor stadiums, then allow the existing domes to have their carpets, but make sure the padding underneath passes inspection.