Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fixing Football: Fake Injuries Edition

Fake injuries are in the news, but they are hardly new. Defenses used them to slow down the Colts last year, Kurt Warner’s “Greatest Show on Turf,” Jim Kelly and Buffalo’s K-Gun, the Run-and-Shoot of Mouse Davis, and the Bengals’ no-huddle under Sam Wyche. And that’s just a partial list of the last few decades... don’t think for a second that Otto Graham and Bart Starr never faced fakers.

Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita admitted that teams sometimes pre-call a phony injury in the huddle. And if you need proof, Fujita’s 2010 teammate Blake Costanzo faked one to slow down the Patriots just last year (8:30 left in the fourth quarter, if you care to check).  New York Giants’ safety Deon Grant might have put this issue back in the spotlight, but he hardly invented the idea.

No question this goes on, and it constitutes a clear abuse of rules put in place to protect players. The NFL responded the way it usually does, with a sternly worded memo, threatening to fine or suspend players engaged in the practice. That step is long overdue, and it might reduce the number of obvious fakers, but it does not go far enough -- not by a long shot.

If the league really wants to get serious about this issue, commissioner Roger Goodell has to take two more steps: and additional memo this year, and a rule change for next year.

The memo should read, in part:

The head coach of any team that is determined to fake injury in order to gain advantage in a game will be suspended without pay for one game. A second offense will result in a two-game suspension, and a third offense will result in suspension for the remainder of the season.

Players don’t fake injuries on their own, the orders come from coaches. And if head coaches know they risk suspension, they will think twice about having players to take a dive. Especially if they risk losing money and even more especially if they risk losing an entire season.

The second part of the fix will have to wait until 2012, because it requires a new on-field rule -- something Goodell should push for this off-season. The rule would simply be that when a timeout is called for a player injury, that player cannot reenter the game until the after the next change of possession. In future seasons, this will make coaches and players less apt to use fake injuries as an in-game strategy, because it could leave them short-handed as a drive progressed.

These changes will not eliminate faking from the game; and neither would have changed what happened last Monday night. But in combination with threatened player suspensions, they are the best steps to reduce phony injuries as much as possible. Player safety should always be of paramount concern, and neither suspending coaches nor removing injured players from the game for a series puts safety at risk.

The rule change would probably be embraced by the NFL’s Competition Committee. Over the last 30 years, they favored rules that led to more offense and scoring. And any rule that allowed offenses to dictate the pace of the game and matchups on the field would certainly help with that goal.

Unfortunately, Goodell will not get the green-light to fine or suspend head coaches if players fake injury. The commissioner still works for the owners, and owners will protect head coaches, especially if the coach is winning games. Owners simply won’t allow this to happen, and Goodell probably knows that.

However, Goodell should push on both fronts. The NFL’s record on player safety is light-years better than just 15 years ago. But phony injuries slow down the game and create an unfair disadvantage for teams that run hurry-up offenses. And having players abuse rules designed to protect them is unacceptable, so the commissioner should do everything in his power to eliminate as many faked injuries as possible.


  1. This concept strikes me as the ultimate example of the difference between those who have great QBs and those who don't. As a Patriots fan, I get pissed when something interrupts our flow. I own many Saints and Chargers in fantasy, and the same thing applies. I see a ton of jealously in this move, as teams WITH a good 2 minute QB wouldn't do it as much.

    I like the suggestion that if a player leaves due to injury on a series, he cannot come back that series. Not one play, the whole series. That may actually work. And players would have a hard time arguing. If they are really hurt they should be out. If they aren't, then they shouldn't have collapsed.

  2. I try to think I would feel the same way if I was a Jacksonville fan. In fact, I thought it was unfair when the Bills got that treatment in the playoffs (forget which team, might have been the old Houston Oilers).

    Bottom line is that it's a slap in the face to the league, to using safety rules to gain advantage. If you can't beat 'em on the field, then get a better team.

    Also remember: the defense is always given a chance to substitute if the offense does. So the only teams that can pull off the hurry-up for entire drives are those with enough position-flexibility -- i.e. running backs and tight ends that can play receiver or stay in to block.

    Thanks for posting... always interesting!

    - Scott