President Obama is set to address the nation with his State of the Union speech on Tuesday. I would never miss the opportunity to do the same with my own NFL State of the Union (with a tip of the hat to Commissioner Roger Goodell, who delivered his "State of the League" speech before the Super Bowl).
Here's a Schein Nine-style look at the issues in the league that must be addressed or changed in the near future, including my take on overtime and my ideas for the schedule during the final three weeks of the regular season.
1) Tweak the Rooney Rule and hold teams more accountable
Eight head coaches and seven general managers were hired this year, and none of them were African-American. That was a step backward.
I think the Rooney Rule needs to be expanded so that teams looking for new offensive and defensive coordinators and special teams coaches must also interview a minority candidate. These jobs are frequently the stepping stones to a spot as a head coach.
Finally, I would change the rule so that teams must interview two minority candidates -- rather than just one, as is currently mandated -- for head-coaching positions, to prevent interviews from being seen as a "token" courtesy to fulfill an obligation. I feel strongly about this.
2) Keep it in the division down the stretch
How cool would it be if the last three weeks of the regular season were devoted exclusively to games between divisional rivals? The home stretch is already dramatic; this move would just increase the drama ten-fold.
I came to this conclusion while watching the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texansbattle it out in the AFC South twice over the final three weeks. Think of all the Week 17 drama that was produced by games between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East and the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North.
Chances are, few divisions would be wrapped up before Week 15. These final three weeks would be loaded with playoff implications, whether teams were fighting for a division title, a wild-card berth, the right to a bye week in the playoffs or seeding. These are the games the fans, players and TV networks salivate over. Sprinkle the other three divisional games each team plays somewhere between Week 1 and Week 14, but save the juiciest for last.
3) Never mention the words "18-game schedule" again
I get nervous whenever I hear Goodell talk about an 18-game schedule. It's backward. It's illogical. It would be too much. It's barbaric.
We would have more injuries. The playoff teams would be unrecognizable, and the quality of play would be diluted. An 18-game schedule would be bad for player health and safety, and bad for the quality of the game.
4) Keep kickoffs!
Let's revisit the basics of football. You have offense, defense and special teams. I am all for player safety, but kickoffs are part of the game.
5) Stop scheduling in-season games abroad
I think it is very intelligent to play games in London -- during the preseason. When a team plays a so-called "home game" abroad, it hurts the players and coaches of the so-called "home team," because they have one fewer game in their actual home city than the other 15 teams in their conference fighting for a playoff spot. The fans of that team are also robbed of one of the eight holidays known as NFL Sundays.
Promote the game abroad -- in August.
6) Shorten the preseason, and don't tie it to a ticket package
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Preseason football is awful. Fans shouldn't be charged full price to watch second-teamers, third-stringers and guys who will never play a real down in the NFL. It's insulting.
Cutting down on the preseason would also be a great way to protect the players and help preserve player safety.
7) Move a team to Los Angeles
With the NFL more popular than ever and TV ratings going through the roof, the fact that the league doesn't have a team in this country's second-biggest media market ranks somewhere between odd and embarrassing.
I don't want to hear about how the Raiders and Rams had mixed results during their time in Los Angeles. With the right stadium, the right owner and the right football management, football in L.A. would be a huge success, on and off the field. It could even make the already-lucrative television packages even better.
8) Make overtime how it used to be -- with a wrinkle
There was never really anything wrong with the old overtime format. Changing it was the result of a groundswell overreaction to Peyton Manning not touching the football.
There are three phases of the NFL game. Teams that want to win should play defense or special teams. Playoff matchups have been won in overtime on defense before.
Folks say it's too arbitrary to decide overtime possession with a flip of the coin. I hear that. So here's my rule: The home team gets the ball first in overtime. Every player and coach would know that, affecting strategy during the home stretch of regulation -- and amping up the excitement.
9) Move the Pro Bowl down the schedule, but keep it in Hawaii
Few football fans really care about the Pro Bowl, though the players and the families like it as a nice reward. I didn't actually watch the game this year, but I heard it was more competitive.