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2010 NFL Rules Changes

The NFL tweaks its rules every season. To be honest, it is something that sometimes makes me crazy since I often think changes are over-reactions to events of the previous season, that they can be difficult to understand and often make the job of officiating the games that much more challenging.

Mind you, I'm not picking on a specific rule change. I'm just making a general observation. That said, the NFL summarized its 2010 rules changes as part of its 2010 NFL Kickoff Guide made available to media members. The changes, directly from the release, are below.

In addition to a new modified sudden-death overtime format for postseason games (see next page), a
number of other playing-rules changes were adopted by the NFL clubs at the Annual Meeting in

The primary focus of those changes was enhancing player safety.

"We want to make the game safer both for the player getting hit and the player doing the hitting," says
NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Ray Anderson.

Following are the 2010 changes:

  • UNNECESSARY ROUGHNESS: Existing unnecessary roughness rules have been standardized and protection for defenseless players has been expanded, including additional safeguards for defenseless players who have just completed a catch from blows to the head or neck by an opponent who launches, and long snappers.

    "We wanted to make sure we have consistent language that lines up for all categories of players and expand the protection that applies to those players," says Atlanta Falcons President and Co-Chairman of the NFL Competition Committee Rich McKay. All unnecessary roughness violations result in a 15-yard penalty.
  • HELMET REMOVAL: If a ball carrier's helmet comes off during a play, the ball will immediately be blown dead.

    "We watched some tape where players are running in the field of play without helmets," says McKay. "In our mind that is not a safe situation."
  • DEAD BALL FOULS: If there is a dead ball personal foul by either team following the end of the second or fourth quarter, the penalty yardage will now be enforced on the second-half kickoff, or the kickoff in overtime.
  • INSTANT REPLAY: Two adjustments were made to instant replay procedures in the interest of competitive fairness:
    -- If there is not an on-field ruling that a ball strikes a video board, guide wire, sky cam or any other object, the replay assistant may now initiate a booth review, even if the event occurs prior to the two-minute warning.

    -- If a replay review inside of one minute of either half results in the on-field ruling being reversed and the correct ruling would not have stopped the game clock, then there will be a 10-second runoff before the ball is put back in play.
  • JERSEY NUMBERS: In addition to numbers 60-79 and 90-99, defensive linemen are now permitted to wear numbers 50-59. Also, players who change positions are no longer required to switch jersey numbers if the change is from an ineligible position to another ineligible position (e.g. center to offensive guard) or from an eligible position to another eligible position (e.g. running back to wide receiver).
  • FAIR CATCH MUFFS: The penalty yardage for interference when a kicking team player attempts to catch a muffed kick has been eliminated. A penalty for unnecessary roughness, if applicable, would not be affected.

There will also be points of emphasis on several existing rules this season (although the rules themselves have not changed):

  • Good sportsmanship will continue to be emphasized. The use of abusive, threatening or insulting language or gestures directed at an opponent or an opponent's bench is considered taunting and will result in a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Game officials will pay particular attention to in-the-face taunting of opponents.
  • All rules that encourage player safety will continue to be strictly enforced, including unnecessary roughness, chop blocks, clipping and illegal blocks below the waist on changes of possession. The focus will be on eliminating these tactics from the game.

There will also be one change in mechanics for NFL officials:

  • The initial position of NFL umpires will now be in the offensive backfield opposite the referee for all plays except for field goals, extra point tries and inside the two-minute warning of the second and fourth quarters. The most important factor in considering this move was the safety of the umpire.