As many of you football fans out there know, there is an upstart football league that is about to begin its' inaugural season this fall. The UFL will play their games on Friday nights, broadcast them on Versus, and provide no real competition to the NFL in any way, which is most definitely a good thing. The UFL will feature four teams in the cities of New York, Orlando, Las Vegas, and San Francisco, respectively, and will provide a sort of developmental league or the NFL as well as to give players a second chance at reviving their once-promising careers.
The UFL has recently came out with their rulebook, which could raise some eyebrows around the media world. Overall, the rule changes aren’t revolutionary, but that could be the main point. If the UFL wants to remain successful, it would be wise for it to remain close enough to the actual NFL that it is able to gain some crossover viewers and fans. Without really changing the game in any significant manner, the UFL has tweaked some of the "No Fun League’s" most unpopular and scrutinized rules.
Among the most significant of rule changes are :
1) UFL head coaches and QB's will be wired-for-sound, with the QB's on a tape-delayed basis for editing and possible play-calling. With former NFL head coach Dennis Green moving over to the UFL, the league might be wise to have the coaches on a tape delay as well.
2) The ridiculous "Tuck Rule" will be done away with, unfortunately referee Walt Coleman will still get to keep his job though. A quote from an article in the Pro Football Examiner titled “UFL gets rid of ridiculous tuck rule” reads as the following:
January 19, 2002. The Raiders seemingly beat the Patriots in a snowy playoff game in New England. Tom Brady fumbled the ball and Greg Biekert recovered it and Oakland was going to run out the clock. Then the world was introduced to the tuck rule.
Even I have gotten over the rule and the call, but I think everyone can now admit that the rule is downright ridiculous. Maybe the league is trying to win over some still bitter Oakland Raider fans with the decision.
3) The UFL will allow cameras into the locker room at halftime for the opening four minutes, mic the coaches, and broadcast the communication between the coach and the quarterback on a tape delay.
This promises greater accessibility which has been a promise of the league from day one. With the UFL wisely gearing itself more towards the fans, something the now-struggling Arena Football League had great success with, it will as a result, also make it easier for the league to gain media recognition. The fans create the game, and their perception of a sport as well as a league plays the biggest role in how the media will portray the UFL.
4) The quarterback can legally ground the football if inside or outside the pocket area while under duress. This rule is a change on the current grounding rule in the NFL, with a major emphasis kept on the quarterback's safety.
UFL San Francisco Head Coach Dennis Green had the following to say on the grounding rule change:
"The change to the “grounding rule” comes under the umbrella of “Player Safety”. The change was made in an effort to protect the quarterback, who is defenseless when he is in the throwing position, from injury. By allowing the quarterback to dump the football if he is under duress, it lessens the number of times that he might possibly be hit by the defense. The quarterback, who is in such a vulnerable position when he releases the football, will now have the opportunity to see a charging defender while in the pocket and not have to run for his life to get outside the pocket before releasing the football. The safety and protection of the quarterback as well as all our players is paramount to the success of the league."
Either way, it should be interesting to see how that rule plays out. In the NFL, recent rule changes have been made to make it even harder to rush and tackle the QB without having a large penalty and/or fine attached to it. I would not be the least bit surprised to see this one catch on in the NFL within a couple of years.
And last but not least...
5) The UFL will allow a possession for each team in overtime before going into sudden death, another extremely popular change.
This rule change, seemingly minor, seems to have the potential to have the biggest ramifications if successful.
The NFL's overtime system has been widely criticized for many years, as over 70% of the teams that win the coin toss go on to win the game. If this rule succeeds in the UFL, perhaps the NFL would explore the issue a lot more thoroughly. After all, they would already have a test group to utilize that they didn't have to pay anything at all to set up.
Which brings us to the bigger question. Can the UFL become a sort of "testing ground" for the NFL? The original plan behind NFL Europe was to become a sort of developmental league to the NFL, where minor rule changes and tweaks were tested out, but with the league folding within the last 2 years, the UFL can very well take it's place. And with some former NFL players as well as players with future NFL aspirations participating in the upstart UFL, along with the fact that the league will both take place and be broadcast in the U.S., it would make it much simpler for the UFL to showcase the potential changes to the mass media and fanbase. And if the UFL can somehow manage to raise the quality of the NFL without attempting to challenge or compete with it, I would be all for it.
How about you all out there? What future role do you see the UFL playing in relation to the NFL, and can it succeed in doing so?