But as the game has transitioned over the last few decades, the league finds ways to address issues as they arise and make changes to the rule book that governs the league. Some changes, like the 5-yard contact rule for defensive players with receivers, have had a significant impact on how the game is played. Others are rules that are put in when it is deemed that a team is seeking an unfair advantage, such as the Patriots’ move in last year’s playoffs where players with eligible jersey numbers reported as ineligible and lined up outside the tackle box. In that instance, it was something the league had never seen before and, once it did, changed to rule to prevent teams from copying the ploy that previously had no rule covering it.
Following a Minnesota Vikings practice this week, four current and former officials – side judge Rob Vernatchi, former official and current supervisor of NFL officials Neely Dunn, umpire Ruben Fowler, and back judge Dale Shaw – played a 12-minute video for players explaining the 2015 rules changes and points of emphasis that will be called whenever spotted by officials.
“The idea of all of these rules changes and points of emphasis is to either make the game safer or provide more clarification on existing rules,” Vernatchi said. “It is our goal to have consistency in officiating and make the game safer for players.”
Players were shown a video explaining the rules changes and points of emphasis that officials will enact. The one that got the most attention was the moving of the line of scrimmage for extra points from the 2-yard line to the 15-yard line with the added notation that, if the defense gets its hands on the ball – whether there is a fumble or interception or a blocked extra point attempt – it can return the ball. If the defense goes all the way to the end zone, the defensive team scores two points.
The other changes to the rules in 2015 include:
There will also be three points of emphasis that will be enforced more strictly this season. They include:
With all of the rules changes, the idea is to provide consistency from one play to the next and one officiating crew to the next.
“That’s the onus on us in the office of supervisors because we grade every play,” Dunn said. “We’re striving for consistency. If one crew calls more fouls and they’re correct, that’s what we want. If they’re calling fouls we don’t want called, we will let them know that we don’t want those fouls called anymore.”
For many players, the session with the officials is similar to being called to the principal’s office at high school. There aren’t many questions asked and the session typically goes pretty quickly. They take in what is said, but don’t always have much in the way of give and take.
The officials who do the annual team visits during training camp realize that players want to play the game as they always have, but the difference in the rules interpretations is, in the end, for their benefit.
“Our goal is to provide consistency and, most importantly, safety of players,” Vernatchi said. “The game is physical. That’s football. But we’ve seen a lot of changes over the last five years once we started enforcing helmet-to-helmet hits and we’re seeing a lot less of them now than we did five years ago. At the end of the day, what these rules changes are looking to do is make the game safer for the players and to help prevent unnecessary injuries that can potentially end careers.”