NFL can speed up games by trimming the fat
If, as NFL Media chief Brian Rolapp recently suggested, the NFL will look for ways to increase the pace of the game, that’s good news -- for a couple of reasons. First, it shows that the league is taking the TV ratings dip as seriously as it should. Second, efforts to improve the pace of the game can’t hurt.
The challenge becomes looking for ways to trim fat, without sacrificing the total number of snaps. It would be possible, for example, to start the clock after the ball is set for play following an incomplete pass, like the league has done for years now after an out-of-bounds play with more than five minutes in either half; however, that would serve only to reduce the total snaps in a given game.
The better approach would be to identify all of the moments in a game that tend to bog it down. And the NFL should start with the protracted dog-and-pony show that unfolds during a replay review, which includes a variety of plodding steps as the referee migrates from the middle of the field to one of the coaches to the replay booth, with conversation and communications and more discussions and delays as the referee alone navigates the process of determining whether the ruling should be overturned, where the ball should be placed, and the amount of time that should be on the clock.
It all can be done more quickly and efficiently, either through the replay official on site or the league office. And it definitely should be done more quickly and efficiently.
The league also should study every other aspect of the game in search of situations that delay teams from getting to the next play. While a certain number of breaks are necessary to generate the advertising dollars needed to harvest the billions paid to the NFL for game content, could traditional commercial pauses be supplemented with in-game reads or soccer-style ads that invade the screen while the broadcast remains focused on the game, so that it can resume more promptly?
Beyond the commercial interruptions, are there more efficient ways to keep the game moving? Is a full 40 seconds needed between snaps? Is there a way to communicate penalty information without the referee having to do so? Is there a better method for determining whether a team has earned a first down without a measurement? (There is, but the NFL consistently has refused to embrace laser technology as the replacement for the chain gang.)
Every option should be on the table, and everyone who cares about football should study a game or two from start to finish with the goal of spotting opportunities to create and maintain the sense that the game is moving more quickly than it does.