Points of emphasis affect how games are called and played

At the beginning of the NFL season this year, it didn’t take long for players, coaches and fans to cause a minor uproar.

What was so egregious? The competition committee made a “point of emphasis” concerning a 23-year-old rule that prohibits defenders from landing on a quarterback with their full body weight or driving him into the ground with excessive force.

This came after hearing complaints from coaching staffs that the rule wasn’t being enforced, so the committee made it a point of emphasis for officials to call the penalty.

When the flags started flying the first three weeks of the season, there were 34 roughing the passer calls compared to only 16 similar calls through three games the year before, and 20 such calls during the same timeframe in 2016.

Whenever there’s a new point of emphasis, it comes as no surprise that more penalties are called, at least until everyone gets the message.

League officials tried to warn everyone, but it’s human nature for players and coaches to say, “I’ll believe it when I see it called.”

Never mind that video was shown to the players, coaches and officials during the off season demonstrating legal and illegal plays. NFL officials visited all 32 training camps, as they do every year, to explain rule changes and points of emphasis.

Video examples were shown of what the league describes as proper and improper technique.

Of course, anytime judgment is involved, look out. Some felt officials gave too much emphasis to the point of emphasis.

The reason the 1995 rule is being emphasized is because teams complained that it wasn’t being enforced. The competition committee looked at the situation and made the rule a point of emphasis. Be careful what you wish for.

There’s a valid reason the NFL revisited the rule — because the league was concerned with injuries to the marquee players, i.e., the quarterback. The emphasis won’t prevent quarterback injuries, but the hope is that it will help some.

Of course, players, coaches and officials won’t always agree on what constitutes a legal or illegal hit on the quarterback, which tells you the controversy isn’t going away anytime soon.

For a defensive player, it means learning a new technique in how to sack the quarterback after years of trying to dish out as much punishment as possible. It takes time, but there have been examples that players can adjust to the way the rule is enforced.

As a former basketball official, I can tell you there are points of emphasis every year in high school and college basketball. For more than a decade, it seemed that rough post play was a point of emphasis in high school basketball. Not all officials called the game the same way when it came to players pushing, shoving or leaning on players in the post. Those inconsistencies are probably why it remained as a point of emphasis for so long.

One year, a point of emphasis was eliminating the tactic used by defensive players of putting their hands on an offensive player, especially when the player was dribbling the ball. Officials were told to call the foul in an effort to clean up the game and not hinder the offensive player.

Sure enough, we called a bunch of hand-checking fouls until the players learned that if they wanted to stay on the floor and out of foul trouble, they had better keep their hands to themselves on defense.

I asked one of my officiating friends what the points of emphasis are this year in high school basketball.

Here’s what the top priorities were. Not all of them are directly related to officiating, interestingly enough.

Sports Medicine – Concussion recognition and risk management

General guideline for skin infections and communicable diseases

Ankle sprains

Responsibility for proper uniform and apparel

Rules review and areas of emphasis

– Establishing pivot foot and traveling

– Legal guarding position, block/charge, screening, verticality

– Loose ball recovery

Officiating professionalism and use of proper technology

I’m sure at least one cynical fan is thinking, “How about making it a point of emphasis for officials to make the right call?”

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