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Fix the NFL -- Limit Substitutions

Is it worth the cost?
Football is my sport.

I like it so much that I was even a fan of the USFL.  That is, until Donald Trump got hold of it and, like his hair, made a mess of things.  Before he stepped in, the USFL played during the months that the NFL did not, and that gave me pretty much year-round football. Trump helped move the league to direct competition with the NFL, which quickly killed it. But while it lasted, I loved having two football seasons, and the USFL even gave me a pro team in my hometown: The Oklahoma Outlaws played in Tulsa.

However, even though I love the game, I do not want people to sacrifice their health for my entertainment.

Many sources have reported the number of concussions in the NFL and their long-term health effects.  Some reports have asked whether the size of players has contributed to this problem (such as this NPR report).

So if the NFL cannot find a solution to the problem of concussions and brain degeneration among  former players, I propose this possible (but very unlikely) solution: Allow limited substitutions so that most players play both offense and defense.

Nearly all of the rules would stay the same, but changing the roster rules would change the players and the play on the field.  I am not proposing the details of how that limited substitution would work; there are many possibilities.  And I really doubt my idea would ever implemented, but the plan is something to think about.

(The Arena Football League does something similar, and I must admit I never have been a fan of that game.  But that it because its game is significantly different from traditional football.)

Alan Page, DT, 245 lbs., 1967-1978
I doubt a 300-pound lineman would have the stamina to play for nearly the entire game. He would need to shed weight in order to play that long. If the game were changed this way, we might see player weights closer to those in 1960s and 1970s. Offensive linemen then weighed about 250 pounds.  Today they consistently weigh 300 or more. The same numbers are true for defensive linemen.

For example, Alan Page was a Hall of Fame defensive tackle who played at about 245 pounds in the 1960s. He was even voted the league's Most Valuable Player at one time.

Linebackers and running backs have gained weight. Wide receivers and defensive backs have perhaps gained the least weight, yet even those players are heavier today than in the past.

How might lighter players reduce concussions?


Warren Sapp, DT, 300 lbs., 1995-2007
The force generated by the collision of two men weighing close to 300 pounds is greater than that of two men weighing 250. The force of today's collisions influences injuries to the brain.

Alternatively, the NFL could simply limit the size of players: no one on the team above 250 pounds. But would that result in a lawsuit claiming discrimination?

I think limited substitution also would change collisions because of self-preservation. At various points in the game, players would need to conserve their energy. So bringing a ball carrier to the ground would be sufficient; there would be no need to "blow him up" on every play. Watch game film from earlier decades, and the tackling was different; it was more often a matter of form than force.

In general, I think that would hold true for other parts of the game -- form over force. Technique would be more important than brute force.

I am old enough to remember the players from the 1970s. I cannot say that I enjoyed the game less then than I do now. I cannot say the increased violence of the game has enhanced my enjoyment of the sport. I think the game is most enjoyable when players demonstrate skill more than strength -- when they leap, dive, change direction, spin, etc.

One also could argue that my change would turn NFL players into "true" athletes, in the sense that they would need well-rounded skills. There would not be the specialists we have now -- like pass rush specialists who are in the game for 15 plays, perhaps.

Without those specialists, some might say, the quality of the game would drop. An analogy: Those who compete in the decathlon in the Olympics probably cannot win medals in the individual events, so in that sense they are not as good as the specialists. But specialized athletes cannot compete in as many sports as the decathletes. There would be trade-offs. But hopefully there would be one big advantage: fewer concussions.

Other changes would come about. Team rosters would be smaller. There would be no need to have 53 men on a team. So the players union would not like the new rule; it would mean fewer jobs.

However, smaller rosters might mean players are available to form new rosters. That is, the league could be expanded to a couple of new cities. Or we could bring back the USFL and have year-round football again.

I could go for that.