Grandstanding | Just Let ’Em Play, By The Rules!

Yes, referees should just let players play — but by the rules.

Most pass plays in NFL and NCAA football games have receivers pushing off and defensive backs grabbing jerseys. A Clemson receiver illegally picked off an Alabama defender to free up a receiver for the clinching touchdown in this week’s championship game.

In basketball, the popularity of the three-point shot might be because NBA and college coaches and officials have given up explaining that players can’t palm the ball and run for five steps on the way to the basket.

You may have seen the HBO Real Sports story on how many bad pitching calls would be eliminated if MLB used radar instead of umpires to call balls and strikes. Soccer fans worldwide have their favorite fake flop by a player who wasn’t really touched.

If you Google “referees let them play,” you’ll get more than 2 million search results. A search for “NBA traveling” on YouTube yields more than 79,000 hits, mostly compilations, and a suggestion comes up for “NBA traveling 7 steps.”

Naysayers claim it would slow the games if refs call all the penalties. The reality is it might slow down a few games at first, until coaches bench the offending players when the rules are enforced.

In the NFL, why not go back to allowing defenders to jam receivers for the first ten yards, instead of the current five, but then tell both players if they so much as touch each other before the ball arrives someone is going to get a penalty whether the game is on the line or not? It’s not the referees deciding the game. It’s the choice of the player to violate the rules.

Speaking of rules, isn’t willfully violating the rules a form of cheating?

Perhaps the most high-profile case of pass interference and the just-let-‘em-play this NFL season was Seattle Seahawk cornerback Richard Sherman holding Atlanta Falcon Julio Jones’ arm so Jones couldn’t catch a key pass at the end of the game the Falcons narrowly lost. That some note that Jones pushed off early in the play only further supports my point. Both players assumed (correctly) that the referees would be reluctant to throw a flag and enforce the rules in favor of letting the competitors’ play decide the game.

The NFL spent more than a year hassling one of its top ratings draws and suspending him for four games (not to mention docking millions from his pay and taking a first-round draft pick from the Patriots) because of a clearly unprovable assertion that Tom Brady organized an effort to shave the air pressure of footballs that the NFL already inexplicably allowed individual quarterbacks and teams to doctor a ridiculous amount to their preferred specification.

Meanwhile, analysts of NFL games routinely joke about “holding on every play” by offensive linemen, defensive players hold and interfere with seeming impunity, and receivers push off as if they were eight balls ricocheting off a pool table’s side felt bumper.

This is not a case for being old school or stuffy at the expense of exciting offense and slowing the game down and hampering scoring. This is an argument that scoring and pass completions and total offense might increase if the rules are enforced and the players actually play the game they are being fairly well paid to excel at.

In case NBA officials are thinking “thank goodness” this piece went off mostly on football and didn’t dwell on the apparent introduction of the running broad jump into basketball, let’s wrap up with a laugh at hoops’ expense.

It might be considered amusing now that the famous NBA logo depicts the profile of a player (Laker legend Jerry West), dribbling a basketball. You’ve undoubtedly heard people argue for the logo to be replaced by the famous profile of Michael Jordan stretching to dunk.

Makes perfect sense for today’s game. Make the NBA logo the profile of a player about to dunk from the free throw line after he takes nearly as many steps as Bob Beamon took to set the broad jump record in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

Can we just let ’em play? Yes, but by the rules!

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