The NFL is proposing a rule change that would result in a player's ejection after two personal fouls. While the nature of the infractions that would lead to ejection have yet to be determined, the rule change would be a positive one, if -- and that is a big IF -- officials are able to implement the rule fairly and consistently.
Officials had a dismal 2015, missing certain infractions and penalizing plays that weren't illegal. Worst in 2015 was their track record on sportsmanship and unnecessary roughness. You wouldn't guess it from the way games were officiated this past season, but a 2015 point of emphasis was sportsmanship. In addition to cracking down on illegal contact, defensive holding, offensive pass interference, and illegal use of hands, officials were supposed to be on the lookout for unnecessary roughness, taunting, and unsportsmanlike conduct.
The NFL reported that fouls for taunting and unsportsmanlike conduct increased 11 percent from 94 in 2014 to 104 in 2015. The league also reported that unnecessary roughness calls were up as well, from 254 in 2014 to 261 in 2015.
Though calls for these infractions were up, it also appeared that officials lost control of many regular season games, allowing flagrant violation after flagrant violation to go unpunished. During a 2015 preseason game between the Redskins and Ravens, two players were ejected after a skirmish. During Week 2 of the regular season, Seattle Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright was ejected for trying to decapitate an opponent. Not literally, of course, but his aggression was definitely out of line, and officials were right to remove him from the game.
Though there was a preseason ejection and one early in the regular season in 2015, ejections were an anomaly, even after more egregious and dangerous violations. During a December 20 game between the Panthers and Giants, Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Panthers cornerback Josh Norman had a slew of personal foul penalties, and many more incidents of bad behavior that weren't flagged. Officials had lost control of the game. Although the league's point of emphasis was sportsmanship, officials allowed both players to remain in the game.
Vontaze Burfict of the Cincinnati Bengals is facing a suspension in 2016 for a head-to-head hit he leveled on Antonio Brown, a classless, dangerous move that left Brown concussed and unable to play in the divisional playoff game. Pacman Jones has also been a perpetrator of numerous personal fouls, injuring players across the league, some severely.
Threat of suspension could deter players from intentionally injuring opponents and putting on game-long displays of unsportsmanlike conduct. If officials can differentiate between routine trash talk and incidents of intentional injury, the rule could be a very positive change. On the other hand, if officials are as haphazard in doling out consequences as they were during the 2015 season, the proposed ejection rule could be a source of tremendous frustration for both players and fans.