My first post using the title "The NFL Is Rigged" was actually written 10 and half years ago. I was strangely shocked to find it had been that long. It was a rather humorous look at how that claim, that headline, is so exemplified and yet contradicted by the actual play on the field. Far too many people were and are invested in the idea that it's all a sham, and I admit my surprise at that to this day. However, I come here to bury that post, not to praise it.
The simple truth is that football, even professional football, is a game. Games have rules, and the game is played to follow those rules or else penalties occur. To the degree that the rules change, especially to manipulate the game, then it is a rigged endevour. Consider that 'cheating towards outcome'. The rules can be tweaked to get a result, no doubt, but if it's the league that does it, is it really cheating? Ahhh, ignore that. It's kinda like Calvinball. If you own the game, who is anyone else to tell *you* the rules?
As facts would have it, there is a simple answer to that question when it comes to professional sport. It would be the fans, those people who provide the money, who should be setting the tenor and emphasis of the rules. Someday, I will likely write the post I've wanted to comparing modern American sports to "The Running Man" and "Rollerball". (The original, silly. The remake was beyond half-assed trash, and violated the very core of the message in a very meta-way.) This is not that day. American fans like what they like about the game, and don't like what they simply don't. For the folks who have made the NFL the leading sports league in the country, they like scoring and the rules have been steered to enable that very end. Good, the money folks have spoken and the league responds.
Still, there is more than a small bit of a problem here. Some fans don't like change. I still talk to people who loved watching Deacon Jones virtually decapitate people with the clothsline move. "Let them play rough" they say. No, that injures players, and costs fans and money. Many protest the prohibition against helmet to helmet contact. They think the rule unfairly applied, and I agree. Running backs are not called for lowering their heads into the chests of linebackers, but D-backs are called for spearing? Really? The fact is, rules are applied towards a given outcome, and inconsistently adjudicated, often to favor that outcome. Anything resembling 'fair' comes into question. It is hard to argue that that is not a true statement. Often, that is not a resistence to change, but rather a revolution against being manipulated into thinking that what isn't fair is somehow 'right' because it benefits the game. When those rules benefit health of the players (the Brady rule, helmet-to-helmet, etc...) it is hard to argue or be angry about them. But when the rules are meant solely to change the game to the very-profitable leagues advantage, most folks have a reason to balk at accepting them.
Where 'changing the rules' becomes somewhat insidious, is when the rules remain the same yet the league cautions officials to "emphasize" that rule, change the manner in which the rule is applied. Such is the case this year, regarding 'illegal contact' between defensive backs and receivers down the field. Let's call this the "Seahawk varient", because last year the Seattle Leagion Of Boom was roughing up recievers down the field and were the most penalized defense in football for it. Most fans outside of the Pacific Northwest were staunchly in favor of this emphasis when announced before pre-season. I strongly wonder if they would be so now. All of last year, there were 52 illegal contact penalties called. In the first two weeks of pre-season, there have been 56 such penalties. That goes well beyond "emphasis", and stands as a self-defeating change to the game. Fans want scoring, and that's hard to do on the LoB (as well as other terrific defenses around the NFL.) But one thing fans absolutely hate is the extension of the game because of penalties. They hate teams being 'given' yards not based on play, but at the whim of officials. Fans have always hated, and likely always will, that the league can pick and choose winners by manipulating play through 'the rules'. Examples are out there, the "Tuck Rule" being the most blatent.
Now, the league has informed us all that this 'emphasis' as displayed in the pre-season will relax somewhat in the regular season. Really? Last season, before the playoffs, officials were told to relax the adjudication of illegal contact as applied in the regular season. "Let them play" was the buzz phrase, palatable and completely contradictory. One doesn't have to be a fan of the San Francisco 49ers to call bullshit on that move. The officials, and by extension the league, allowed the players to play in a manner in which teams had not ben allowed to practice the entire season. I like that Seattle defense, but it isn't a stretch to suggest that Seattle was handed a victory against the Saints and then the NFC championship on a platter. (The Lombardi trophy they just plain earned by really awful play from the Broncos.) Let's get simple here: A rule is not a rule if it can be changed on a whim. It's just a general suggestion that anyone in control can change at will. Goodell, the owners, officiating crews and individual officials themselves can all just choose to 'let the players play', and completely alter the outcome of game, or a season.
I would never argue that there shouldn't be a rule against illegal contact, or that the rule shouldn't be strictly enforced. But it ought to be, needs to be, consistent, team to team, officiating crew to crew and from the beginning of the season to very end. That is the only way to convince the money people, the fans, that the NFL is not rigged.