Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Widening Field a Bad Idea

Player safety has become a hot-button issue in the NFL, as well as the NHL. For football fans, the league's decision to make some changes to how illegal hits are dealt with -- as well as the general definition of an illegal hit -- has brought up some questions about the game's future.

While many of the people crowing about the league trying to take hitting out of the sport are just misguided, and the thought that the NFL is "wussifying" football is generally cringe-inducing, reality is that the league is studying ways to make football less dangerous.

There is an acknowledgment from most proponents of these safety measures that nothing the league does will fully prevent the possibility of players being stretchered off fields with potentially serious injuries. The game is just too fast and too violent to do that.

Instead, the NFL is spending their time and energy trying to make things as safe as possible.

One of the potential measures was reported by former NFL general manager-turned CBS commentator Charlie Casserly on Sunday's NFL Today.

... as part of the league’s ongoing effort to enhance player safety, the NFL will consider the possibility of widening the field and the hash marks.  The thinking is that opening up the field could make the game safer.

While player safety continues to be a noble and important cause, it's not likely that this measure will be passed without resistance.

As Mike Florio notes on PFT, we've already heard thoughts from a Pro Bowl safety that indicate this isn't a terribly good idea.

Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, who gradually become the most outspoken player against the league’s stance on illegal hits, is now blaming the shift to wide-open offense.

“The game has evolved in a sense that, of course, people are bigger and faster now, but it’s also evolved in a sense that it’s not eight guys in the box every down and two guys in the backfield,” Polamalu said, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.  “When you start spreading teams out and you start getting space and distance — and you’ve got to get that burst to make that hit — that’s why you’re seeing a lot more hits than normal.  It’s because of the way offenses are playing.”

Polamalu might be wrong to go after the commissioner like he has over the league's stance, but his point is an interesting one.

The fact that you have more room for guys to run around isn't going to make the game safer. Even if it does, that improved safety will only last until the players become faster and more capable of covering that extra ground quicker. Once that happens, the game will become even more violent and dangerous than it is right now.

Not only will widening the field not make the game safer, but it won't make the game any better. As proven in college hockey, a bigger playing surface doesn't always equate to more exciting or wide-open action. The logic in hockey is a bit different, because by widening the playing surface, you're taking players (and, as a result, the puck) farther away from the goal. But in the end, making a football field wider doesn't mean you're going to make football better.

Just ask the CFL. After all, if the wider field meant people would like the product more, they'd probably have more than eight teams in the CFL, and they'd probably have more than a crappy TV deal on NFL Network in the United States.

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