Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Catch 22

Now that my Brandel Chamblee rant is over and done with, I can now start with my think-piece on the NFL as promised.  Roger Goodell and the NFL have come under increasing fire in the past few years to protect the athletes from injury in the NFL.  Changes have been made to protect the quarterback, protect defenseless receivers, and most recently to prevent one player from pushing another player in the back to block field goals (mentioned in jest).  Despite these changes however, concussions still appear to be on the rise in the NFL.  Part of this is no doubt attributable to the improvement in diagnosis of head injuries, but could another part of it be the evolution of the passing game?

If you were to take a look at the top-10 NFL career passing yardage leaders, only one of them (Fran Tarkenton) played before the 1980s.  When expanded to the top-20, you could add Dan Fouts, Johnny Unitas and Jim Hart (and one year of Joe Montana).  All the rest of the quarterbacks have played in an age where passing has become option #1 and rule changes have been make to proliferate passing yardage.  Hashmarks have been moved in, the quarterbacks have been given more protection, and basically any contact with the receiver beyond five yards has been outlawed.  What has been the result?  Record passing and receiving numbers, yes.  Record attendance and viewership, yes.  But could this also be contributing to more and more injuries? 

Think about it; receivers like Calvin Johnson and Malcom Floyd that are 6'5" and 225 pounds can now run their routes at sub 4.5/40 speeds without a defensive back being allowed to do anything to slow them down.  He is basically forced to stay away from the receiver until the last second when the ball arrives.  That all but guarantees that the two players are going to collide with a pretty fantastic amount of force.  That might not be contributing to all of the head trauma in the league, but I would argue it certainly has head an effect and certainly could be avoided.  Why hasn't the NFL corrected this problem?  Simple, follow the money.

Long gone are the days when a successful team won games 14-6 with a "three yards and a cloud of dust" mentality.  The NFL recognized that that style didn't garner viewers or sell tickets.  So they took the reins off of offenses in order to get more butts in the seats.  When it is apparent that this stressing of the passing game has coincided with increased head injuries in the game, they have balked at changing the rules because the money keeps rolling in.  They pay lip service to caring about the players, but the bottom line is the bottom line. 

There is no doubt that this is not the only factor in the rise in concussions in the NFL.  Players are bigger, stronger and faster than ever.  Concussions that would have gone undiagnosed in the past are now being treated with better technology and training.  These things have certainly contributed to the rise in reported concussions over the year.  However, the NFL has had its own hand in the rise in concussions by chasing viewership, attendance and ultimately money.  In an effort to become a pass happy league, the NFL has allowed players to reach dangerous speeds on the field, which has no doubt led to more concussions as well.  Re-instituting hand-checking, bump and run coverage, etc. would no doubt slow these receivers down and cut down on some of the high-speed injuries that have occurred.  But would the NFL make more money?  That is the question that they are more concerned with.

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