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Improving Football

Suggestions that might make American Football a better game

Where to Spot the Football

Problem — Inaccurate ball placement

In football, play ends when: (1) the ball carrier's knee or elbow touches the ground, (2) the ball carrier steps out of bounds, or (3) a pass is incomplete.

For an incomplete pass, the ball is returned to the original line of scrimmage.

Otherwise, the football is spotted on the field by an official according to his best judgment as to the furthest reach of the ball during play.  He must often make this judgment from some distance or from an obscured perspective.  This mean that the football could be placed incorrectly by several inches or more.  Even in the best situation, ball placement can hardly be accurate under one inch.  Yet this judgment by officials, this placement of the ball, is taken as absolute and can determine if a first down was made or not.

Improvement — Digital spotting

Instead of trying to place the football at some exact spot as determined by an official, the nose of the football should be placed precisely on a yard line marker.  (Digital spotting works best if the center of the chalked line is taken as the yard line.) For example, if play starts at the offense's 17 yard line and the ball is advanced slightly beyond the 20 yard line but does not reach the 21, the ball is placed at the 20 yard line.  Any fractional gain beyond a yard line marker is disregarded.  A gain of two feet is the same as no gain at all. The ball is placed back at the previous spot.  Such digital spotting of the ball would have three advantages:

Digital spotting

—  During play, the officials would only need to watch the ball's relative reach of any yard line marker.  He would judge if the football crossed an imaginary line stretching from the sideline to its respective yard line marker on the field.  Anything short of that would place the ball back to the next yard line marker.

—  Since anything short of a yard line wouldn't matter, nearly all errors of ball placement would be eliminated.  Only the crossing of a yard line marker would be prone to error.  And with officials more engaged in watching for yard line crossings, these errors would be reduced.

—  Currently minor errors in ball placement result when officials step off penalties.  But with digital spotting, since the ball originally is always at a yard line marker, stepping off penalties of five, ten or fifteen yards would be very simple.

This digital spotting method requires that the ball can go no farther back than the offense's one yard line, unless the play results with any part of the ball touching the goal line, in which case it is safety.  At the one yard line, after a play, if the football ends up between, but does not cross, the goal line or the two yard line, the football is placed again at the one yard line.  Likewise, on the defense's one yard line, there is no "inches to go."  A gain of a half yard puts the ball back to the one yard line.

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Which Team is the Best

Problem — Not Enough Games to Determine Best Teams

The National Football League (NFL) and all college conferences play 16 or fewer games during the season.  Teams are ranked by the number of games won.  But such a small sample of games can't really determine how good or bad teams are.  Often teams end up with identical win-loss records.  In such cases, other criteria are used to determine team rankings.  Also games can be won or lost due to a lucky bounce of the football or bad officiating.

Improvement — Award Game Points (GPs)

To more accurately determine team ranking and to eliminate using other criteria as tie-breakers, leagues and conferences should use a method of "Game Points" or GPs.  Instead of letting the final score dictate who is the better team, break the game into its components.  Each game is divided into two halves, the first half (1st + 2nd quarters) and the second half (3rd + 4th quarters).  For each half, if it ends in a tie, one GP is awarded to each team.  Otherwise, two GPs are awarded to the winner of the half while the loser gets no GP.  The winner of the game (the team with the highest final score) gets two extra GPs.  If the final score is a tie, each team gets 1 GP.

So a team would earn:  ( first half GPs  +  second half GPs  +  final score GPs ), or:

–  6 GPs if it had the higher score in both halves, so winning the game (2 + 2 + 2)
–  5 GPs if it had the higher score in one of the halves and the same score as its opponent in the other, so winning the game (2 + 1 + 2, or 1 + 2 + 2)
–  4 GPs if it had the higher score in only one of the halves, but won the game with the higher final score (2 + 0 + 2, or 0 + 2 + 2)
–  3 GPs if each half of the game ended in a tie (1 + 1 + 1) or each team had the same score but in different halves resulting in a tied game (2 + 0 + 1, or 0 + 2 + 1)
–  2 GPs if it had the higher score in only one of the halves and a lower final score, so losing the game (2 + 0 + 0, or 0 + 2 + 0)
–  1 GPs if it had the same score as its opponent in one of the halves and a lower score in the other half, so losing the game (1 + 0 + 0, or 0 + 1 + 0)
–  0 GPs if it had the lower score in both halves and therefore losing the game (0 + 0 + 0)

Awarding up to two game points (2GPs) for each half of a game would certainly improve strategy, competition and interest.  For example:

—  In a tight first half, the final minutes of play would take on the excitement of the last minutes of a close game since the teams would be competing for 2GPs.

—  In a game where one team is hopelessly behind in overall score, the closing minutes of the second half might still be interesting if the losing team can outscore the opponent in the second half, earning it 2GPs.

Using the National Football League as an example, instead of a maximum of 16 possible wins, there would be 16 times 6, or 96 GPs... a much better measure to rank teams.  Dividing a team's GPs by the number or games played times 6 gives the GP average.  For example, if a team earns 9 Game Points in its first two games, dividing 9 by 12 (maximum GPs for two games) gives a Game Point Average (GPA) of .750.

An additional advantage of GPs is that overtime play to break tied-games would be unnecessary.  Why force apparently evenly matched teams to roll the dice on a few extra plays, thus distorting the "win" column?  Below, Table 1 shows the National Football League team standings comparing Wins Average (wins divided by games played) to Game Point Average (GPA or Game Points divided by games played times 6.)  In Table 2, notice that the ranking of all teams is different if GPA were used instead of wins... in particular, Houston with a 12-4 record is below five other teams with worse win-loss records, and Indianapolis is below seven other such teams.

Table 1 — National Football League 2012 Season

Comparing Win Average (Ave) to Game Point Average (GPA)

American Football Conference (AFC)

New Engl. Patriots124.750 68.708
Miami Dolphins79.467 48.500
New York Jets610.375 38.396
Buffalo Bills610.375 38.396
Baltimore Ravens106.625 62.646
Cincinnati Bengals106.625 55.573
Pittsburgh Steelers88.500 51.531
Cleveland Browns511.313 34.354
Houston Texans124.750 57.594
Indianapolis Colts115.688 50.521
Tennessee Titans610.375 36.375
Jacksonville Jaguars214.125 27.281
Denver Broncos133.813 74.771
San Diego Chargers79.438 49.510
Oakland Raiders412.250 32.333
Kansas City Chiefs214.125 20.208

National Football Conference (NFC)

Wash. Redskins106.625 56.583
New York Giants97.563 54.563
Dallas Cowboys88.500 46.479
Philadelphia Eagles412.250 28.292
Green Bay Packers115.688 64.667
Chicago Bears106.625 58.604
Minnesota Vikings106.625 52.542
Detroit Lions412.250 38.396
Atlanta Falcons133.813 69.719
Tampa Bay Bucs79.438 43.448
New Orleans Saints79.438 42.438
Carolina Panthers79.438 41.427
San Francisco 49ers114.719* 68.708
Seattle Seahawks115.688 64.667
St. Louis Rams78.469* 43.448
Arizona Cardinals511.313 35.365
        *  including one tied game.
    Yellow highlights show teams with same win-loss records... notice the GPA scores.

Table 2. — National Football League 2012 Season

Ranking All Teams by Game Point Average (GPA)

Team W L Ave GP GPA
Denver Broncos 13 3 .813  74 .771
Atlanta Falcons 13 3 .813  69 .719
New Engl. Patriots 12 4 .750  68 .708
San Francisco 49ers 11 4 .719*  68 .708
Green Bay Packers 11 5 .688  64 .667
Seattle Seahawks 11 5 .688  64 .667
Baltimore Ravens 10 6 .625  62 .646
Chicago Bears 10 6 .625  58 .604
Houston Texans 12 4 .750  57 .594
Wash. Redskins 10 6 .625  56 .583
Cincinnati Bengals 10 6 .625  55 .573
New York Giants 9 7 .563  54 .563
Minnesota Vikings 10 6 .625  52 .542
Pittsburgh Steelers 8 8 .500  51 .531
Indianapolis Colts 11 5 .688  50 .521
San Diego Chargers 7 9 .438  49 .510
Team W L Ave GP GPA
Miami Dolphins 7 9 .467  48 .500
Dallas Cowboys 8 8 .500  46 .479
Tampa Bay Bucs 7 9 .438  43 .448
St. Louis Rams 7 8 .469*  43 .448
New Orleans Saints 7 9 .438  42 .438
Carolina Panthers 7 9 .438  41 .427
New York Jets 6 10 .375  38 .396
Buffalo Bills 6 10 .375  38 .396
Detroit Lions 4 12 .250  38 .396
Tennessee Titans 6 10 .375  36 .375
Arizona Cardinals 5 11 .313  35 .365
Cleveland Browns 5 11 .313  34 .354
Oakland Raiders 4 12 .250  32 .333
Philadelphia Eagles 4 12 .250  28 .292
Jacksonville Jaguars 2 14 .125  27 .281
Kansas City Chiefs 2 14 .125  20 .208
      *  including one tied game.