May 02, 2017

THE FUTURE OF FOOTBALL: Football is dead! Long live football? Or, how to fix it before it gets killed off.

posted by NoMich to football at 10:39 AM - 8 comments

Like foot soldiers in a war, lawyers are merely rubber ducks on a great tidal swell of football-related backlash, doing what they are told, and being pushed by currents sweeping back from a century of American football's flailing about with no regard for itself or fellow swimmers.

Reminds me a bit of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Gatsby ending:

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

posted by beaverboard at 10:52 AM on May 02

There's a similar debate going on in Australia around both the rugby codes and Australian Rules. Sports governing bodies don't seem to get that this is the kind of thing that will eventually stop parents letting their kids play the game.

I love this line in the article:

"When the 2000s rolled around and CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) emerged as a real correlation with the game of football, the NFL and others followed the noble example of tobacco companies by falsifying research, denying all charges, and focusing on selling the product to children."

posted by owlhouse at 03:32 AM on May 03

Yeah, that was a standout line for me as well.

I also liked the idea of a total weight limit that a team can have on the field at any one time. Not a limit on the amount of players, but a limit on the total weight of those players. The article linked to this short blog post that introduces the idea. You can have a couple of giant dudes on the field or a bunch of small dudes. Hell, this may be the way you can get women in the game.

posted by NoMich at 06:51 AM on May 03

I don't know about the weight limit - that just means that potentially, I have a team full of Steve Atwaters and Ronnie Lotts. It's not the same thing as the constant car crash of the current linemen, but velocity is the other half of the momentum equation.

posted by LionIndex at 07:04 PM on May 03

Growing up in Sydney, the only times I played Rugby League was at school, where they had weight limits. As a skinny kid, I wouldn't have survived any other way.

Long live the Normanhurst Boys' High 7 stone 7 pounds RL Reds!

posted by owlhouse at 09:49 PM on May 03

I don't know about the weight limit - that just means that potentially, I have a team full of Steve Atwaters and Ronnie Lotts. It's not the same thing as the constant car crash of the current linemen, but velocity is the other half of the momentum equation.

Besides, there's this bit of reality.

posted by NoMich at 06:31 AM on May 04

Fabulous, thorough piece. But it omits discussion of the key factor in football that brought it to its current state. Platooning.

Every other team sport, except baseball and cricket, are structured so that the team that controls the ball may lose it at nay moment and suddenly find itself playing defines , rather than offence. Accordingly, those sports contain a natural inhibitor against specialization. Specialization leads to selection for specialization. So, you have linemen who get bigger and bigger who could never play any other position. You have running backs who could never defend a pass. Etc.

The fact that a team that loses the ball gets to change players has led football to develop unidimensional athletes. Other sports -- hockey, basketball, rugby, soccer -- require such a range of skill that extreme body types and extreme behaviours are limited by the inherent requirements of the game. Baseball, which also has a hiatus between offensive and defensive periods for a given team -- has forcibly introduced this natural limiting factor, by the rule against substitutions: if you substitute, the departing player is out of the game for good. Without this, we'd see human hitting machines against a new breed for fielder, each "bred" for his position. Of course, there are stereotypical athletic forms for each position. But the tendency to go to extremes is hemmed in by the need to play "on the other side of the ball". [The key idiosyncrasy of baseball is that the defence has control of the means of play -- i.e. the baseball. So the offence is always reacting. A team can't decide what it will do and then staff up for exactly that play. Other sports prevent the latter by allowing the other team to play offence as soon as the ball (puck) turns over, creating the same uncertainty as receiving pitches in baseball does.]

So, any fix for the violence in football has to contend with the basic setup of the game. Possible changes are: (1) everyone has to play on both sides of the ball with no substitutions; (2) after a turnover, the defence has to stay on the field at least for first down; (3) cutting the play clock down to 24 seconds (which would emphasize conditioning);...there are others.

posted by hexagram at 08:16 PM on May 06

everyone has to play on both sides of the ball with no substitutions

This was the rule in NCAA football until 1941. As is the case in soccer, if you came out of the game, you stayed out of the game. Because of the shortage of skilled college players due to WW II (they were volunteering for military service), free substitution was allowed. The NFL followed suit in 1943. For the 1953 season the NCAA changed the rules to allow only 1 player to be substituted after each play. "General" Robert Neyland, then Tennessee head coach, hailed this as the end of "chickenshit football". This lasted until the 1964 season when unlimited substitution was once again allowed. During the era of limited substitution, the service academies were among the more successful teams. This was due to the physical conditioning required year round of the Cadets and Midshipmen, thus giving them more stamina than those who got into shape for the season and neglected conditioning otherwise.

posted by Howard_T at 12:28 AM on May 07

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