4

June

Four Things the NHL Playoffs Teach Me About the NFL

NHL and NFL LogosThose of you who regularly read my posts know that I live in Pittsburgh. I arrived here after making a few different stops in my life journey, though my mom did grow up in Western Pennsylvania, so I do have roots here. And while I am a football fan to the extreme, I have grown to enjoy watching ice hockey. Put two and two together, and you should not be surprised to know that I have been following the Pittsburgh Penguins in their run towards another Stanley Cup championship.

Right now, the Penguins are favored to win, despite their disappointing loss on Saturday against the Boston Bruins. It was the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals, so they’re down but certainly not out.

However, as I was watching the game, my mind couldn’t help but explore the similarities and differences between the two sports. Football is far and above more popular, and you could probably even rank hockey below baseball and basketball in terms of viewership. Nevertheless, here are some things I learned about the NFL as I watched the NHL playoffs:

1. Individual games hold more value.

I probably should have noted in the beginning that I am a very, very casual fan of ice hockey. In fact, I generally only tune into games when the playoffs roll around. Each NHL team plays 82 games in the regular season, for a grand total of 1,230 games across the league. In short, I simply don’t have the time to commit to my team.

Contrast that with the 16-game schedule of NFL teams, and it’s easy to see why each game holds more value. Now, this it not a new revelation, but it’s a model that has helped football become the biggest sport in the nation. When so few games are played, each one carries more weight in determining playoff chances for a team. And that means more fans will feel the urgency to tune in and see what happens.

Like the NHL, the NBA teams also play 82 games each in the regular season. Meanwhile, MLB teams see nearly twice the action, with 162 games per season. It’s great for the statisticians, because the large sample size makes the numbers more meaningful, but it can be too much to follow for the average fan.

12

February

NFL Concussion Conundrum is Enough to Make You Feel Woozy

One of the biggest headlines during the 2010 season was the issue of player safety, most notably concussions. After a congressional hearing criticized the NFL for not taking the matter more seriously, the NFL took to the issue with a renewed fervor. What resulted was mass confusion for everyone; players, coaches, referees, the media and the fans had no idea what constituted an illegal hit.

This was followed by frustration by many players, most notably Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison, who was fined upwards of $10,000 per infraction. Harrison lead the league in fines (with over $100,000) and criticism (with a meeting with commissioner Roger Godell in New York and a fiery jab during the Super Bowl media day) and even threatened to retire should these fines continue.

I believe that the NFL is heading in the right direction, concussions are a serious matter and the ramifications for players as they retire and grow older can be devastating, but the system with which officials determine what constitutes an illegal hit and the repercussions that the NFL enforces afterwards are a little baffling.

The first issue, of course, is what constitutes an illegal hit due to the threat of concussion. While some hits, such as the Julius Peppers’ hit on Aaron Rodgers during the NFC championship game are pretty obvious, others, most notably when defenders end up hitting quarterbacks on the head, are a little harder to explain (such as Trent Cole’s “hit” on Peyton Manning this season). Perhaps if Deacon Jones was still playing and axe chopping quarterbacks that might be an issue, but usually these penalties occur when defenders are trying to bat balls or throwing arms and their hand coincidentally ends up touching the quarterback’s helmet.

The second issue comes from how penalties are handed out. These hits are treated as personal fouls, with a 15 yard penalty, an automatic first down and a likely monetary fine somewhere down the road. A 15 yard penalty with an automatic first down is a good start, the percentage of success for an offense rise exponentially based on their position, so usually such a large penalty will result in points, but if a cornerback can be penalized 45+ yards for pass interference holding by a wide receiver’s arm, hitting a defenseless receiver or knocking out the quarterback should probably be a bigger penalty.