The Associated Press reports that the list of candidates to replace retiring NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue is down to a numerologically appropriate 11, though no one outside the selection committee knows who's on that squad of the possible.
Tagliabue deputy Roger Goodell is thought to be chief among the finalists, the AP reports, along with two other league executives you've never heard of, Jeff Pash and Eric Grubman. The NFL hopes to name Tagliabue's successor at meetings early next month in Chicago.
But the other eight candidates remain a mystery. Until now. I'm here to reveal to you the name of one of those who might be pegged to lead the NFL into a new era.
I was as surprised as you no doubt are to learn that my utterly reasonable ideas about the NFL have found traction among the sport's movers and shakers. If you're not a follower of my cult of reason, good sense and anti-placekicking fanaticism, allow me to introduce you to part of my program.
Punting and placekicking: Get rid of it all. Except kickoffs, which are OK.
My views on this matter are well documented and I won't expand on them here except to remind you that when you see a highly skilled, multimillionaire quarterback crawling backward on the field with the game on the line to set up a better position for his field-goal kicker, whose main task for the day so far has been trying to stay awake, something is very wrong with a great game.
Rules and officiating: We're going to fix these. The NFL's officiating problem is all anybody talked about during the last postseason, and when that happens, it's not just a problem, it's a Problem.
We're going to simplify the rules. No more of these five-minute officiating conferences on the field to parse and clarify the incredibly picayune statutes about what is or is not possession of the football. We're going to adopt what I'll call the Madden Standard, to wit: If it looks like a fumble, it's a doggone fumble. Or catch, or incompletion.
We can work out the details of what that means later, but what we're going to have is a set of simple definitions, not unlike the ones used in pickup football games, where everybody who sees a play pretty much agrees on whether it was a catch or an incompletion, without benefit of super-slo-mo replay to determine whether an arm hair touched the ground before the ball started to move.
When Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers intercepted a pass in an AFC playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts last season, then fumbled, and it was incorrectly ruled an incompletion on instant-replay review, highly paid network announcers who have spent their entire adult lives either playing in or observing the NFL gave out bad information because they didn't know the relevant rule.
CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf talked about Polamalu making "a football move," a familiar-if-puzzling phrase that, it turns out, did not apply in that situation. The NFL had to release a statement later in the week explaining that the "football move" rule didn't apply.
Meanwhile, not one Colts player had argued with the original call on the field -- interception -- and the home fans in Indianapolis didn't boo the original call. There was no evidence that a single person who saw that play in real time thought it was an incomplete pass. Colts coach Tony Dungy only challenged because the game was on the line and he had no choice but to hope for a miracle, which he got.
When experts, players, coaches, officials and fans are all stumped by the most fundamental of the game's rules, the rules are too complicated.
We are just so going to fix them.
Instant replay: Also fixing. It needs to go faster, or it needs to go away. We're killing our fans with this stuff. With simplified rules, the officials should be able to confidently make calls and stand by them.
Did you watch the World Cup? Did you see when a player would start whining about a call and the referee would shake his head "no" and dismissively wave him away. That's the stance NFL zebras should take.
The end zone: Everyone has to stop calling it "the house."
Overtime: Fixing. We can talk about how we're going to do it, exactly. I favor sudden death after each team has had at least one offensive snap, but I'll listen to any suggestion that does away with a system under which a team can lose without having had a chance to touch the spheroid.
Camera on a wire: To be used only for replays. Ditto all artistic camera angles. And the ball must be visible on TV screens at the time of the snap, and until the whistle. We can look at the quarterback's face between plays.
Exhibition season: It's too long. Two games max. We're killing our fans with this stuff, especially since we make them pay full price, and we include the two home practice games, at full price, in season-ticket packages. I'm open to lengthening the regular season by two games to 18 to make up for lost revenue, but I'm also OK with 16. See, I can be a flexible despot.
I did mention that I'll only take the job if it comes with despotic powers, right? Collective-bargaining agreement? Pshaw. Each Raven would show respect to me. The Giants genuflect to me.
Good name for a band, by the way: The Genuflecting Giants. You can use it. Also the Flexible Despots.
Home games at home only: No regular-season games in Mexico City, Tokyo, London or Kuala Lumpur. It's an insult to the home fans. They only get eight home games a year, though we make them pay for 10. Let's not take one away from them.
On the other hand: Just for fun, let's see if the fans will pay for two more home games they don't want. We'll charge full regular-season-game admission to a spring workout and a summer photo day, and make those a mandatory part of the season-ticket package.
I'll be a mostly pro-fan commissioner, but you have to let me get in on a little stick-it-to-the-customer fun or I won't take the job.
The No Fun League: Those days are going to be over. Guys can celebrate touchdowns however they want, within the bounds of common decency, sportsmanship as it's understood by the current generation of players and keeping the game moving. They can wear their socks how they want.
And if a wide receiver wants to wear No. 23, I think that's probably OK. The numbers 50-79 should be reserved for ineligible offensive players, who have to wear them, but otherwise, it really doesn't matter what number a guy wears.
Chris Berman: Lifetime ban. Enough with this guy already. He was great in his day but his act is so worn it looks like Keith Richards' face on a bad morning.
Rolling Stones: Lifetime ban. Enough with these guys already. They were great in their day but their act is so worn it looks like -- oh. Right.
The weight problem: One of the NFL's more disturbing problems is the ever-increasing size of the behemoths who play the game. Players, especially linemen, are already wildly oversized, and they just keep getting bigger. This has been shown to be dangerous and even deadly. A Scripps Howard study of former NFL players earlier this year found that "the heaviest athletes are more than twice as likely to die before their 50th birthday than their teammates."
And it's not a big leap to think that when we're talking about this problem, we're also talking about a pretty serious steroid problem.
So, what to do? I don't know, but I want to at least study the idea of bringing back some limitations on substitution. The size of football players began booming with the elimination of these limits, which led to two-platoon football and ultimately specialization.
If all you have to do is stand still in the middle of the defensive line on running downs, you can be 6-1, 395. If you have to play both ways, it's not going to work.
I don't know if limiting substitutions, which would also lead to more interesting strategic decisions in both roster design and game play, would solve the weight problem, but it's worth an experiment.
Adopt CFL rules: I figured I'd throw this one in in case I get a honeymoon period. It's a better game.
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