On a Tuesday conference call, Falcons president and competition committee chairman Rich McKay revealed several changes the league will propose ahead of the 2011 season. And in the process, he also had to break the news that two rules won’t change, despite pressure from media and fans.

First, the Calvin Johnson rule isn’t going anywhere. Johnson’s would be game-winning touchdown against the Bears last year was called back despite the fact anyone with two eyes and some logic could see it was a legit reception. Johnson isn’t the only player who has been screwed by this controversial and complicated rule, something officials are oftentimes lost when trying to apply.

If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball after he touches the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.

I haven’t heard the committee’s explanation for maintaining the ambiguous rule as is, but I’m already prepared to see a half-dozen controversial touchdown receptions in 2011 … if there is a 2011. This is a joke.

Neither are the overtime rules. Last year, the league instituted a new and improved overtime format that gave a team a chance to respond to a field goal on the first drive of OT. But for some ass-backward reason, it only applied to playoff games. None of the 11 postseason games required extra time, and so we’ve yet to see the new format in action. We’ll have to wait another year or longer, because it won’t be used in the 2011 regular season.

Scoring plays could be reviewed automatically. There’s nothing worse than when a team scores a disputable touchdown outside of the final two minutes in either half and the opposing team has no challenges or timeouts left. Now, it looks as though the league is going to save teams in those situations by making all controversial scoring plays automatically reviewable by the replay booth.

This is a fantastic move, but I’d honestly like to see the NFL take it much further. I don’t care how long a game lasts so long as the calls are right. I’d love to see the entire challenge system removed, giving the replay officials the option to review anything that might have been called incorrectly. At the very least, coaches should have an unlimited number of challenges until they get one wrong.

Kickoffs could be moved up five yards. And touchbacks, too. In a step that is clearly trying to lower the number of kick returns (and thus injuries that take place on kick returns), the league is expected to propose that kickoffs take place from the 35, not the 30. And if a return man takes a knee in the end zone, his team will get it at the 25, not the 20. They also want to eliminate wedge blocks, which at this point are taught to Pop Warner kids but the league must feel are causing too many injuries.

If this happens, seeing anything but a touchback might become an extremely rare event. I have yet to decide whether I like this or not — I guess we’ll have to see how badly it hinders returners.

Last but definitely not least, the league plans to become even more strict in how it treats illegal hits.

Ray Anderson, the league’s chief disciplinarian, said Wednesday that repeat offenders or players committing flagrant illegal hits will have a much greater chance of being suspended during the 2011 season.

I don’t think anyone has a problem with this. The problem, instead, is that there’s still a lot of confusion in regard to what is illegal and what isn’t. This is a lot like the catch-possession rule in that players insist that they’ve done one thing while the officials see something else. The good news is that the league is now clarifying what a defenseless receiver is:

  • A quarterback in the act of throwing;
  • A receiver trying to catch a pass;
  • A runner already in the grasp of tacklers and having his forward progress stopped;
  • A player fielding a punt or a kickoff;
  • A kicker or punter during the kick;
  • A quarterback at any time after change of possession;
  • A receiver who receives a blind-side block;
  • A player already on the ground.

All of these rules will be voted on by the owners when they meet next week in New Orleans. Here’s hoping they still decide to do something about that fuzzy Calvin Johnson rule.

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