It is no secret that the National Football League, and football in general, has been under attack from a lot of quarters recently. Concussions, murder, bullying, and controversial rules changes have dominated the headlines. Youth football participation is reportedly down ten percent this year, and number-one fan Rush Limbaugh confessed to simply losing interest on his show Monday, something that was unthinkable for the long-time Pittsburgh Steeler fanatic just months ago.
To be sure, the NFL is doing extremely well financially at the moment. All revenues are up, and everyone is making money. Tons of money. However, this is a league and a sport facing longer term foundational challenges, and there’s no indication that the league suits are capable of navigating these dangerous waters. After all, the essence of the sport is the touchdown – and yet the definition of what one is can at times be as confusing as navigating Healthcare.gov – and as contradictory as Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) trying to explain keeping your plan if you like it.
The league, in the bureaucratic spirit of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, has made the mighty touchdown a nebulous concept. Consider: by definition, any ball carrier heading for the end zone must only “break the plane” in order to score. It used to be, at least in application, that a touchdown mean just that – entering the end zone with the ability to touch the ball, or yourself, down in said real estate. There’s a reason it’s called a touchdown.
Now, thanks to all kinds of instant replay technology, and the unsettling urge by some to complicate every damned thing, figuring out a touchdown is as vexing as Sheldon Cooper going off on one of his particle physics rants on The Big Bang Theory. You know, if you wave the football over some invisible perpendicular of the very tip of the end line for even a nano second, then we have a string theory time space continuum touchdown apparently. And because we don’t want to offend the less successful, we’re going to award that the same points as we do a ball carrier who strolls untouched 75 yards through the back of the end zone – with time enough to spare to dance with cheerleaders and autograph the ball with a sharpie.
Which is fine, I guess, if you want to allow these theoretical plane transversals to count six. We’re a country full of participation trophies, so participation touchdowns are a natural by-product, I suppose. Except, they aren’t. Not always. And this is my point.
For players who are so unfortunate as to catch a ball while already in the end zone, the requirements for a touchdown are more stringent than anything Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) would require of an illegal alien wanting citizenship, EBT cards and voting rights. A receiver, as demonstrated recently by the 49ers Jon Baldwin, can catch the ball completely for a couple of seconds, get both feet down securely in the end zone, and still not get credit for a touchdown. Apparently, if the ball happens to come out sometime around Tuesday morning – as the receiver tumbles through reporters, cameramen and ball boys some 15 yards out of bounds – it does not rise to the absurd standard of “maintaining possession all the way through the catch.” This sounds mysteriously like a term written by someone who has never maintained possession all the way through the catch. You can receive 655 IRS refunds in Lithuania in a shorter time period.
Now to be clear, Baldwin’s play was ruled correctly, by the book. As are many disputed “did he break the plane, or didn’t he” touchdown calls. But that’s the problem: the book! The book not only establishes preposterously different levels of stringency for those entering the end zone with the ball versus those catching the ball in the end zone, it makes officiating the sport far more difficult than necessary.
So why does the NFL do this? We allow the IRS, the NSA, OSHA, the EPA to ruin lives daily because some unelected unaccountable bureaucrats is operating by the harebrained rules in some book, because there’s often nothing we can do about it. It’s a shame the NFL, which certainly could do something about it, fails to do so. Which begs the question: if they can’t even clean up the most basic of rules, how will they survive all the land mines laid out before them in the future?