Ask Gary: Will NFL’s rule changes affect its fans?

by Gary Shelton on August 25, 2018 · 6 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

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Last week there was a QB sack in the Vikings/Jaguars game where the defensive player made a textbook tackle and was flagged for roughing the passer due to the new rule instituted to further protect QBs after the Aaron Rodgers injury last year. The new leading with the helmet tackling rule likewise appears to be a disaster and has already created a lot controversy as predicted.

Do you think these rule changes made in the name of player safety have gone too far and are ruining the game? Will the new rules that hurt the defensive player turn the NFL into an arena league?

No, the NFL isn't going to turn into the Arena League, which was made up of players who were dying to be in a better league. That won't happen with the NFL. They'll never have the inferior players as long as they pay the superior salaries.

But I do think the NFL is messing with its fan base, though, by the softening of the sport. It doesn't start by fans clicking the set off in anger. It starts with apathy.

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Rules mandate that teams don't train as hard these days. They aren't in the same kind of shape they used to be. The sport isn't as sharp as it was. Fans aren't idiots -- although the league treats them as if they are. People can see that the game isn't as finely tuned as it once was, and that's not just my age talking.

Now, none of that means that the league isn't still the most popular sport in our country. But the NFL does a lot of things to drive off fans. Preseason games at regular season prices, for instance. Thursday night games. Offering a superior product to the home television-viewer.

Two things give me hope this time. One, Bill Belichick said the rules change was nothing different for the Patriots; they've always taught players not to lead with their heads. If that's true, it isn't that much of a change. Two, the league has already tweaked the rule to not enforce "incidental" contact. (I suppose incidental means the ref can call whatever penalty whenever they wan)t. That usually means bad teams are penalized more, right?

It has changed the way a lot of players play, but especially safeties. We can all remember John Lynch, Brian Dawkins, Jack Tatum separating receivers from the football. For years, the league marketed a "greatest hits" package of the most vicious hits.

Look, I understand safety concerns, I really do. I've talked to too many veteran players who were losing mental faculties, whose bodies were betraying them. There is nothing like the stiff-hipped gait of an old player to make you sad. So  I'm not deaf to safety concerns.

But football was never meant to be a mild game. It's not two-hand touch. There is a fine line for the league to make the game as safe as possible without losing its essence. Otherwise, you can call off the games, and everyone will be safe.

Yeah, I'm concerned. Roger Goodell should be concerned, too. The game isn't as good as it was. Period.

I'm sure you'll weigh in on this in a long-form column, but knowing Urban Meyer and having dealt with him, did anything about his presser surprise you? And after running a thug renegade program at Florida and now this domestic violence scandal at Ohio State, does his reputation ever recover?

Peter Kerasotis

The only thing that surprises me in an Urban Meyer press conference is that he doesn't hiss and rattle his tail. He might as well have said "look, I'm going to do everything possible to win a football game. Deal with it" Because that's who he is. He's as oily as any coach who ever blew a whistle.

I was particularly revolted by Meyer and his "memory lapses." That's an old politician's trick. "I can't remember, so it must not have happened." Meyer was so cold that you could have gotten frostbite. He wouldn't say a sympathetic word to Courtney Smith. I kept hoping the university president would interrupt and say "You know, Urban, I've thought about it, and I was wrong. You're fired after all."

From the start, I didn't think Ohio State was going to replace Meyer no matter what the evidence was. The best thing a snake does is slither under a rock.

As for his reputation suffering, in what geography are you talking? Nationally, it's going to be a long time before any article is written on Meyer that doesn't mention him overlooking his assistant coach's transgressions. Most of us see what kind of bloodless jerk we're talking about.

But in Columbus? They'll go crazy cheering when he walks onto the field for the first time. They'll make him the victim in this charade. They'll support him with posters and banners. He'll be a hero there. And it'll make the rest of the country gag and act as if our universities would be better in the light of domestic abuse. But how many would?

It's amazing what a fan base will endure for a coach who brings the possibility of victory. I think if Charles Manson could figure out the way to a first down, he'd be coaching against Jeffrey Dahmer.

Let me ask. you this, Peter. If you were writing a column on the coaches in America you would not hire for your university, would Meyer be on the top of that list? Is his ability to win worth the rest of it? I think not. How about you?

Before the just completed two-game series of Yankees at Marlins, the Marlins were averaging 9,677 fans per game.  For this two games series, attendance was 26,275 and 25,547.  It looks like Giancarlo Stanton is worth about an extra 15,000 fans per game, which is about $30 million in additional revenue for 81 games based on $25 of revenue per fan.  Stanton’s salary is $25 million.  It looks like the Marlins gave away $5 million by trading Stanton.  What do you think?

Scott Myers

You don't think the fans were there to watch Aaron Boone manage?

No, the Marlins didn't give up $5 million a year. With Stanton playing for the Marlins last year, hitting 59 home runs and driving in 153, the Marlins averaged 20,395 fans a game. The year before (2016), they averaged 21,405. Both figures were among the worst in baseball (almost Rays' bad).

This year, because of the firesale of Stanton and others, attendance is down to 10,176 (including the Yankees games).

But the lure of the Yankees isn't just about Stanton. Remember, the Yankees used to train in Fort Lauderdale, and there are a lot of transplants from the Northeast. The Yankees hadn't been to Miami since June of 2015.

I learned this about Miami when I lived there. It's a big-name town. Stanton is bigger coming to town that he is playing in town. They'll support a Dan Marino, or LeBron James. And for a weekend, they got invested in Stanton. But I don't think it would last.

The Marlins, frankly, have a lot of the same ills that the Rays do. Low attendance means they can't keep their stars.  And the Marlins are traditionally a bottom-five market. Frankly, if they didn't have the sparkling new stadium, you could debate which attendance base is worst.

There is no way on earth the Marlins would have averaged more than 26,000 fans with Stanton. Heck, they haven't averaged that since their first season in the new stadium in 2012, And that was after a 14-year lull.

The Rays have played an absurd amount of rookies this season. So who is the team's Rookie of the Year?

Paul Walker

There are a few candidates. For a long time, I thought that it was going to be Jake Bauers. Then August came, and Willy Adams caught fire. There is Ryan Yarbrough with 12 wins and Ryne Stanek. There is Diego Castillo.

But, really, it strikes me that there is only one choice for the team's Rookie of the Year. It's Joey Wendle.

Before this year, Wendle had played only 36 games in the big leagues (for Oakland). This year, he's played 108 games, and he's hit .389 and played very well in the infield and outfield.

I still think that both Bauers and Adames have better futures than Wendle. But if you're passing out the hardware, save some for Wendle.



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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard August 29, 2018 at 9:47 pm

It is sad that the NFL has become a shadow of its former self. I used to enjoy the All Jacked Up on ESPN showing the greatest hits of the last week. You cannot truthfully compare the teams of today with the teams of 10-15 or more years ago. Today the players are coddled. Receivers are not as tough, QBs are not as tough, the only positions that have gotten more physical has been the lines. Unless your a football geek you dont even notice it.


Gary Shelton August 29, 2018 at 9:55 pm

Richard, I’m not even sure you can say that about the lines. Remember when the head slap was a big weapon for pass rushers?

I agree. It’s a softer game. Safeties are required to play touch football. Quarterbacks miss a month if they get a bad haircut. And, no, no one celebrates a big hit anymore. Are we getting old, or is football making us feel that way?


Larry August 25, 2018 at 6:36 am

Without Fantasy football or betting in general the NFL’s popularity would be noticeably sliding. As it is the TV ratings and attendance in some towns are down anyway. Why go to the stadium and pay ridiculous prices for tickets, parking and concessions when the product on TV is so much better?

You make a great point about the overall product not being as good. The first game or 2 of the regular season often looks like an extension of the preseason because the players aren’t in game shape and are not ready after a soft training camp.

I’m concerned about the rule changes I mentioned dramatically changing how the game is played. We’ll see how it plays out but don’t be surprised if some games are decided by a penalty on a play that would normally be a typical football move but now is considered illegal. And the NFL wants to fine players for some of these hits that have been part of the game forever? That’s an insult to the players. The NFL does what helps the owners financially, not the players or the fans. That’s becoming more obvious each year.


Gary Shelton August 25, 2018 at 11:44 am

I think much of it is to protect the league in court, don’t you?


Larry August 25, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Exactly. I think the NFL is playing the CYA game and calling it player safety.

I shouldn’t have included that last part about the NFL becoming an arena league in my question because it took the focus off the negative impact of the new rules which is what I’m most concerned about.

If I’m not watching the Bucs I mostly watch the NFL on the Red Zone Channel these days. No commercials and they cover all the games while generally only showing the most exciting plays. Watching a single, full game with the zillion commercials is too boring.


Gary Shelton August 25, 2018 at 4:29 pm

I can’t disagree. I watch less and less football these days unless I’m invested in a team I cover.

I really think the worst thing the teams have done is curtail the practices in pads. Again, it’s supposedly for safety, but the game loses sharpness like it’s out of tune.


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