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The NFL has been heavily criticized in recent years for a variety of problems, both on and off the field. If the league wants to keep its stronghold as the most popular sport in America, there are a variety of rule changes that may just kick-start the turnaround in the current public opinion trends.

Critics of the league often joked that the acronym NFL actually stands for the “No Fun League” and league officials did themselves no favors by banning the joyful and creative displays of expressions. The league’s decision to allow the longtime banned team celebrations was a smart and easy step in the right direction. The orchestrated team celebrations have added a must-see TV element to touchdown scores.

NFL rule changes are necessary if the league wants to keep pace with the changing demands of an increasingly unsatisfied fanbase. Here is a list of four more rule changes that would make the league more palatable and less frustrating for the everyday fan.

1. The Catch Rule

The current catch rule has annoyed the hell out of any diehard supporter of the NFL. For me, as a Cowboys fan, my moment of dismay came in the 2014 Divisional Round against the Packers. Dez Bryant’s potentially game-winning catch in the end zone was disallowed because he failed to keep possession of the ball long enough following his brilliant reception.

My proposition for a rule is simple; if fans in a bar are watching two neutral teams play and see what they deem to be a catch, the NFL rule should do its best to come up with a rule that generally agrees with its fans views. I am not saying the NFL should make all of its rules in an attempt to appeal the largest number of fans.

What I am proposing is that when it comes to this specific rule, a catch should be judged similarly to the way we all judged a catch when we played football outside as kids. If a guy comes down with the ball and it is not bobbling all over the place then give him the catch.

2. Unsportsmanlike Penalties

Currently, the NFL only ejects a player from the game if they commit two personal foul penalties that are for “unsportsmanlike conduct.” This leads to scenarios like the one we recently saw involving Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster when he illegally hit Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Smith-Schuster then stood over Burfict, taunting him while he lay concussed on the field.

Smith-Schuster received two personal foul penalties, one for the illegal hit and one for unsportsmanlike conduct, but was not ejected from the game. In fact, the Bengals were by league rule only allowed to accept one of the two penalties. Smith-Schuster was allowed to remain in the game because only one of the two personal foul penalties was for unsportsmanlike conduct.

In soccer or basketball, for example, two sports where player safety is less of an issue, two cards or two technical fouls lead to an automatic ejection. Also, it is up to the official’s discretion to issue a red card or flagrant foul for an automatic ejection.

For the sake of safety why not create a similar rule in the NFL? If a player tries to intentionally injure another player the NFL should consider a more distinct penalty for such a violation.

3. Instant Replay Challenges

Even though the challenges increase the length of the average NFL game, I am still fully in favor of their presence. Challenges help make sure the calls on the field are right.

While I would hope they could speed up the process, the challenges often lead to some true tension and suspense that often culminate in game-altering decisions. My only problem with the challenges is that the official’s original on-field rulings often largely determine the outcomes of the reviews.

The rule currently states that if there is no irrefutable evidence to overturn the on-field ruling, the call stands. I would propose officials go to the replay booth assuming there is a 50/50 chance they got the call wrong. They should then make a call based on whatever call they think is more likely correct, not based on whether or not they see irrefutable evidence to overturn their original call.

4. Spotting the ball

My proposal here is simple. With all the modern technology we now have, why do we rely on the referee to spot the precise placement of the ball from 30 yards away, through a pile of 300 hundred pound men?

At a minimum can we not just have some guy in the league offices, watching the game on TV, whisper into an officials earpiece, with precise instructions on where to place the ball. If we want to go further why can’t we place some sort of GPS chip in the ball, that will determine exactly where it was when the ball carriers knee touched the ground. Spotting the ball occurs on every play, and because it occurs on every play it is important to get it right.

Can we not progress from the way the ball was spotted in the early 20th century?

The NFL needs to do more to appeal to an increasingly disgruntled fan base. At the same time, player safety needs to be taken seriously and rules need to be made or changed to address these concerns. My four relatively minor proposed NFL rule changes will begin to address both of these issues.

AJ Hirsch Allen

Author AJ Hirsch Allen

I am a PhD student studying sleep medicine in the department of experimental medicine at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver Canada. I am also a research associate at the Providence Health Care research institute. I am married and have a beautiful two year old daughter and a five year old bulldog.

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