NFL changes rules this season

Your favorite football team leads by two touchdowns with one minute left. Suddenly, the opposition scores and converts the extra point. Palms sweating, you assure yourself that everything is fine; after all, the odds of your team losing an onside kick and allowing another touchdown all in one minute are astronomical.

Ultimately, your worries wash away as your team recovers the onside kick. Not so fast. The kicking team was offsides. Instead of losing possession of the ball, though, they move back 10 yards and get another opportunity to recover an onside kick. Is this unfair?

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Kicker Kris Brown and the Texans special teams are preparing hard for the upcoming NFL season.


The NFL thinks so.

On Friday afternoon in the Houston Texans auditorium, a group of NFL officials described five minor rule changes that will be put into effect this 2003 NFL season. Among them, teams that are penalized while onside kicking will lose possession of the ball instead of receiving another opportunity to kick.

"The philosophy (behind it) is that we are not going to reward the offensive team—the kicking team—for making a mistake," NFL game official George Hayward said. "An example is if a team throws a Hail Mary on the last play of the game and it is incomplete, you don't let the team do it again."

In addition to that rule change, with less than one minute to play in a game, an offensive team that commits a penalty can now use one of their remaining timeouts to stop the clock. Prior to this season, ten seconds would have automatically been taken from the clock regardless of how many timeouts a team had.

Besides the minor rule changes, which are so technical that most football fans won't even notice, the NFL has decided to place added emphasis on enforcing the following penalties; defensive holding near the line of scrimmage, late hits, leg whips and unsportsmanlike conduct.

As far as celebrations are concerned, the NFL still allows the spiking or spinning of the football, unless it is directed at the opposing team. Group gestures, such as touchdown dances with two or more players, will be penalized. Also, referees will be more conscious of gestures that depict acts of violence.

Taunting penalties, which have been criticized in the past, will be strictly enforced. Some players and fans have argued that referees are too quick to call taunting penalties. As far as the referees are concerned, when two players are face-to-face and talking back and forth, they have to call what they see.

"It is very hard for us as officials to know if two players on opposite teams maybe went to school with each other," Hayward said. "If we see two players come face-to-face, they could be talking about old school times. It is awful hard for us to determine that so we have to base it on what we see."

In a new development this year, referees will enter the field up to 45 minutes prior to the game in an effort to prevent any pre-game altercations between opposing teams. Conduct penalties before the start of the game would be enforced on the opening kickoff.

Disgruntled fans that like fast-paced football may complain that the NFL has not changed the instant-replay rule yet, but at least they won't have to watch their home team blow a two-touchdown lead in the last minute of a game by losing an unwarranted onside kick.

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