NFL Considering Rules to Prevent Teams from Using Penalties to Control the Clock

Referees discuss a call in the second quarter of a football game -- the NFL will test a new rule in 2016 under which players will be ejected from games if they receive two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties
Getty/AFP/File Dilip Vishwanat

The NFL will reportedly consider a rule which makes it an unsportsmanlike penalty for a team to commit multiple fouls on the same down, in order to control or influence the clock.

The rule stems largely from a play towards the end of the first half of the Saints-49ers game last year where all of the 49ers defensive backs held all of the Saints receivers, resulting in the Saints having to run a play that took time off the clock, hurting their chances of scoring just before halftime.

Under last year’s rules, the 49ers received a penalty for the infractions. However, they were only too happy to accept that penalty, because the clock still ran. If this proposed rule change had existed then, the 49ers would have received a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and the play clock would have been reset to the start of the play.

Of course, those arguing against this rule will cite the fact that with this proposal the league is now actively trying to decipher the intent of players who commit penalties. Now, instead of just assessing the penalty, the league will also judge motivation.

While true, reasonable people can infer that if four players commit the same penalty all at once, some element of conspiracy occurred. After all, the NFL does have penalties for coordinated celebrations. So why not have one for coordinated penalties?

The stronger objection to the rule, however, will likely rest on the fact that teams will simply shift from having an entire secondary foul someone to having only one player foul someone. How will the league determine intent if it’s only one guy committing the penalty?

If the rule passes, we might just find out.

Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter: @themightygwinn