Curran: When NFL's new rule blows up, don't kill the messengers


FOXBORO -- It was pretty obvious I was trying Brad Allen’s patience. 

The NFL referee was at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday giving the media a rules tutorial and answering questions about the 2018 “tweaks.” My question was, admittedly, droning on.

“Blah, blah, blah, the owners and the league, without conversation, without vetting to any degree announced on a Tuesday at the owner’s meetings, ‘Hey, we have a new helmet rule!’ which was a sweeping change' . . . ”

“That’s a statement,” said Allen. “Is there a question in there for me?”

“Does it put you and your cohorts in a bad position for a sweeping elemental change to be made to the rules of the game?”

“There are a number of people who work within the rules process including on-field game officials. Owners, general managers, players, the competition committee, the NFL Officiating Department . . . they set the rules, we don’t set the rules. Once we are given the rules then it’s like . . . the speed limit, right? ‘Here’s the speed limit, you drive the speed limit. Let’s go coach ourselves up to officiate this rule.’ ” 


If only the league’s new helmet rule were as simple as the speed limit, where all you have to do is look at a sign and then look at your speedometer and know if you’re doing it right. 

Instead it’s ambiguous and convoluted and such a departure that officials plan to flag everything they can in the preseason, then try to determine after the games whether they got it right or not. 

“We’re gonna have to have the opportunity to see these plays,” Allen explained. “Up until now, we haven’t seen these plays. The players haven’t experienced this rule. We’re gonna have to get a library and frankly in preseason we may throw and then go back and say, ‘No, this is really not what we want.’

“In the preseason, we want to err on the side of putting the flag on the ground and then evaluating whether or not it’s correct,” Allen acknowledged. “We want to be right by the time we get to the season.”

Good luck on that. 

It’s not the fault of Allen or any of his fellow officials. The league tied them tied to the railroad track and the train of media and fan outrage will roll right over them when the season starts. 


The braintrust that enacted this rule that Allen referred to? They’ll wear their suits and sit in their suites and cluck-cluck about how bad the refs are messing everything up.   

Just wait for the 15-yard flag to fly on a quarterback sneak from the 1-yard line because the quarterback’s helmet led the way when he burrowed. Think there won’t be outrage when it’s first-and-goal from the 16 on the next play? 

“Will it be subjective to some degree?” asked Allen. “I think it will. But there are a number of fouls that are subjective. Offensive holding is subjective at the point of attack (when determining), ‘Is there a material restriction?’ So will there always be potentially differing opinions? Yes. But as long as we all are educated in the same line I think we’ll do the best we can for the safety of the game. 

“Basically, the mantra is face up, pads down, knees bent,” said Allen. “I do believe that message is being disseminated throughout the league.”

Allen and the rest of the officials are the main messengers. They don’t make the rules, they only enforce them. And then take they’ll heat for everyone else when it all hits the fan. 


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