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Big Blue View Mailbag: Make The Game More TV-Friendly

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A little something different today. After the jump you will find an e-mail I received from a reader proposing a handful of ways to make the NFL game better for fans, both here and abroad.

Rather than go on and on giving you my opinion I am just giving you the letter. Read, discuss, offer your own changes. Have fun with it!

Obviously league expansion (read: revenue expansion) is the centre-point of many of the off-the-field issues that we are seeing today (CBA, season extension, player safety, etc). In my mind, there are a couple of things that will always stand in the way of the NFL expanding its market both domestically and internationally. They are: the length and speed of the game; and the over-complexity of the rules. It doesn't matter how much marketing and PR is put into broadening the fan base, in my opinion, as long as the NFL doesn't address these two points, it will never expand its fan base in any significant way.

1) LENGTH AND SPEED OF THE GAME
The rest of the world prefers their mainstream sports entertainment to have continuous flow and to last roughly two and a half hours (ie. soccer, basketball, hockey, rugby, etc). I understand that there are exceptions to this but, for the most part, this seems to be true. I have a friend here in Toronto, an NBA fan, who's been trying to get into NFL football, for purely social reasons, for the last decade. It's not for lack of trying but he just isn't convinced. The stop/start 3 hour-plus nature of an NFL game always ends up losing him. I think he is representative of the non-NFL watching sports fan. There are simple solutions, I think, to making the NFL more accessible to non-fans and an even better game for the existing fans. This could/should be done by:

shortening the play clock to 30 seconds - Peyton and Tom already run thirty second offences a lot of the time. You could make a case that they represent the best of the NFL and the future of the NFL. The reduction to a thirty second play clock would have to happen progressively - in two stages perhaps. 1st stage: the play clock is reduced to thirty-five seconds - allow three years for the league to adjust and then move to the 2nd stage - thirty seconds. The NFL reduced it in the 1980's from forty-five seconds to forty and it, undoubtedly, improved the game. Time to do it again. Twice.

shortening the length of the game - the NFL needs to get the game lengths reduced to an average of 2 hours and 45 minutes. It is a very American phenomenon (apart from Cricket, which is a niche sport) to watch sporting events that last as long as NFL games that have so much stoppage in game action. This is easily done. NO MORE TELEVISION TIME-OUTS. There are enough natural breaks in the game for advertising. No other network has the level of artificial forced stoppages in game action like the NFL. It is an absolute killer to expanding the fan base. Even I, as my interest in football has become a little more casual over the years, find myself losing interest in games and turning to other tv programming or just turning the TV off. To offset the losing the amount of ad slots the networks could increase the price per unit which they charge the advertisers.

2) SIMPLIFICATION
The rules have gotten so complex over the years that it's like running an entire legal infrastructure. It's crazy. How many times a week do you see players, coaches, REFS even, all gathered together for several minutes (which speaks to my first point) trying to figure out the legalese of what just happened. Obviously, the casual fan will have even less of a chance of understanding what's happening in the game. That can't be good for business.

• Minimize the amount of judgement calls the refs have to make. The NFL got it right when it adjusted the force out rule. "Get both feet in and it's a catch". Simple. More of that needs to happen.

The game clock needs to be simplified. There are way too many situational rules for the game-clock.

Replay needs to be simplified. Perhaps each team gets two replays per half and that's it. No upstairs reviews. Use 'em, with discretion, or lose 'em. Whatever the system, make it simple and efficient, especially time-wise.

• The archaic rules that pop up now and then (remnants from rugby's metamorphosis into modern day football) like the drop kick field goal option need to be eliminated - Doug Flutie did it with the New England Patriots about five years ago. Almost NOBODY in the stadium - players, coaches, SOME of the refs, ALL of the fans - even knew you could do that, except for a half-dozen or so of the world's most astute football scholar/historians (Belicheck). It's time to clean it up. Clean it all up. Throw out the old dusty relics in the attic of the rule-book. REDUCE and SIMPLIFY.