This year the NFL tweaked a few of their officiating rules with umpire safety in mind. They moved the umpire, who was previously standing behind the defense, over to the offensive side of the ball behind the quarterback. It seemed most were on board with the move at the time the announcement was made because the idea of it was to protect the umpires, who were occasionally run into while operating from behind the defense. This way they would be away from the 250-plus pound linebackers running around.
The problem regarding the rule change first arose when the Indianapolis Colts -- a known hurry up offensive team -- took the field and tried to operate their no-huddle offense. Peyton Manning had to wait for the official to place the ball and then run behind him before he could snap it. Manning and the Colts were upset because it slowed down their offense and for a team like the Colts, a fast moving offense is their biggest advantage.
Clearly this affected the flow of the game, and minimized the advantage the offense gains by running a no-huddle offense.
We wanted to get a quarterback's perspective on this, and particularly someone who has been around to see the evolution of the game.
For that, we talked with Broadway Joe Namath on Friday afternoon to gauge his thoughts on the changes to the umpire and to hear his proposition on how to fix the umpire problem.
First of all, the umpire positioning has been the same for the last half-a-century, at least. That's the best position for the eyeballs to see what's happening on the play. I can understand being concerned about the injuries that take place on the field but I'm afraid this is going to change the flow of the game. I know many officials -- I've known them over the years -- and they are macho type guys. They're strong guys. They are in good shape and they do enjoy the action. They're intelligent guys that want to be part of the heat, I believe.
Namath says he believes that umpires want to be in their old positioning. While he hasn't spoken to officials regarding the recent move, he does make it clear that the old positioning -- on the defensive side of the ball -- is the best place for an umpire to view the action.
Here's the situation, as described to us by Namath: The old positioning is the best place for the umpire to see the field of play. However, that's also the position that makes it most dangerous for umpires.
So what's the solution? Protective gear, Broadway Joe says.
All of us have watched baseball over the years and it happens to be that one of the six umpires out there now is wearing equipment behind the plate because it's a dangerous position. What I really don't understand is why we can't go ahead and protect the umpire on the football field with the proper head gear so when his head hits the ground he has protection, and with the proper shoulder gear and rib pads for the same reason.
His proposition is simple, really: Put the proper protective gear on the umpires (and all officials, really) so that they can A.) be safe and B.) continue to have the same viewpoint that umpires have had throughout the history of the game.
The first concern I expressed to him was how it would affect the umpire's movement and ability to view the game. He says adding head gear, lightweight pads and even knee braces would weigh "five-and-a-half pounds, maybe" and that there would be no discernible difference in how they move around during a play.
During our conversation, Namath was adamant that the best view for the umpire is not behind the quarterback. If that were the case, he says, then why has it been the same way over the last 50 years?
This ties into another major point: Penalties. He says he doesn't know whether it would create more or less holding calls but that the potential for inconsistency exists, and that umpires have been doing it the same way for half-a-century so moving them brings an element of the unknown when it comes to consistently calling penalties.
So if we can agree that the best viewpoint for the umpire is on the defensive side, and that the injury factor would at the very least be minimized by the use of some sort of protective gear, the next question is what the officials would think about it.
I think they'd be game, yes. I haven't talked to the umpires about it personally but, again, knowing the character of these guys, the toughness of them...they've been doing this throughout their careers and it's beyond me why we haven't put protection on them earlier. Put them in the same place with the protection, and you'll have the better view for the umpire to see what's going on.
My first reaction to the idea he proposed was that it was too...simple. Why hasn't this been part of the public discourse over the last few weeks when the changes initially came about? Why do MLB and NHL officials wear protective equipment in sports that are less violent than the NFL?
I think Mr. Namath is onto something here. He's a product of the game, and understands what quarterbacks and offenses like Manning and the Colts are going through. It seems to make so much sense that you wonder why it hasn't been implemented before.
We'll see if his idea has any traction with the league.
If you want to see more from Broadway Joe (and who doesn't?), check out a couple of the links below to keep up with him.
Facebook: Joe Namath
Rapid Draft: Joe Namath's weekly fantasy football picks