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Fixing the problem

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made news Thursday with his pledge to improve the quality of his product — namely professional football.

He said the league conducted a survey of fans over the past couple of seasons to find out from them how to improve the game. He wanted to be sure people knew this announcement was not a knee-jerk reaction to the lower TV ratings of this past season.

I believe that as much as the Johnny Manziel guide to sobriety.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad the NFL is taking a look at improving the game. However, from what I’ve heard so far it sounds like a Band-Aid for a broken leg.

Goodell wants to limit the number of TV commercials, or more appropriately, the number of times action on the field is interrupted. In exchange for the fewer interruptions the length of a commercial break would be extended.

I can live with that. I hate watching the pregame build-up, seeing a commercial, coming back for the kick-off, going to another commercial, and then coming back to the game.

If it’s a quick three and out, then it’s another commercial. In the first two minutes of a game, it’s possible — and even likely — to see one minute of football and six minutes of commercials. And most of those are beer and car commercials — talk about a mixed message.

But the NFL reminds you to drink responsibly.

Oh, okay. That makes me feel better.

And then we get back to the game.

I think Goodell is on the right path with reducing the number of interruptions. That helps the TV audience and let’s be honest — that’s the lifeblood of professional football. Without a TV contract the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars would likely not exist.

But that’s only part of the solution and in the grand scheme of things, only a small part.

If Goodell really wants to improve ratings the best thing he can do is put a better product on the field.

For pretty much the past 25 years or so the continuing mantra of those around pro football is the NFL is a “passing league.” And it’s true. Look at how the position of running back has been devalued. There was a time when people looked for the next great running back in the draft. These days it’s rare a running back is even considered worthy of being a first round pick.

Quarterbacks, wide receivers, cover corners, pass rushers, and to a lesser degree, great pass blockers, are in much higher demand.

Rule changes over the past two decades have allowed offenses to expand even more because we all know the old adage, “Offense sells tickets.” Apparently the thought process in front offices is now to build a prolific offense because that will breed success.

I cannot tell you how much I vehemently disagree.

You know what sells tickets?


Winning sells tickets. Winning builds ratings. Winning cures all ills.

If a team is winning, the average doesn’t care how many passing yards the quarterback has or for how receptions a receiver records. They don’t care if a man scores riding a goat and carrying an anvil as long as they win.

I offer this solution: put football back in football.

Yes keep the game as safe as possible but allow defenders to play defense. Teach proper tackling techniques and not to use the head as a weapon. Don’t flag a defensive lineman for a clean hit on a quarterback or a linebacker for touching a receiver beyond five yards downfield.

The NFL is less than a generation from flag football.

Dick Butkus and Jack Lambert couldn’t play in the current NFL. They would be suspended and possibly arrested.

Least anyone think I’m just a bitter old man I point to the NBA. Remember how many decades the zone defense was illegal in pro basketball? In the 1970s and1980s the NBA was nothing but offense and it floundered.

I remember when the NBA Championship Series was broadcast by CBS on tape delay — the sport was that unpopular.

And how did the NBA gain credibility? They started playing basketball again and allowed teams to play legitimate defense. That meant playing a more physical game and making the zone legal again.

You want to help pro football?

Stop hampering defense by rule. Allow special teams to play, including lining up over the center on field goal and extra point attempts.

You don’t want quarterbacks to get hit? Find better blockers or get some guys that aren’t afraid to hold people.

Stop turning a basic out-pattern into a nearly automatic five-yard gain.

Give people a reason to think they will be entertained.