NFL Approves Automatic Ejection Rule and Touchbacks Moved

BOCA RATON, Fla. — NFL owners meeting for their annual meetings approved a second bunch of rule changes for the 2016 season on Wednesday, including one that results in an automatic ejection for any player or coach who racks up two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the same game. However, it will be for a one-year trial basis.

“We felt like we needed a rule to make sure the players are held accountable to do what they are expected to do,” Atlanta Falcons president and CEO and competition committee chairman Rich McKay said in a press conference.

McKay said the rule was necessary to police the number of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties league-wide, which is trending up.

“We’ve emphasized sportsmanship in our competition committee report since I’ve been on the competition committee at least five times, if not six,” he said. “We have made it a point of emphasis every time we felt like it’s beginning to cross the line.”

McKay cited the fact that there were 75 unsportsmanlike conduct penalties league-wide last season, and said: “That’s a very big number.”

Another one-year trial will be implemented for touchbacks — the ball will be placed on the 25-yard line instead of the 20-yard line. The experimental path is something the NFL is becoming more and more privy to trying — last year, the owners agreed to move extra point snaps to the 15-yard line for the 2015 season, a rule which was permanently adopted this week.

Coaches had raised some objections to both the ejection and touchback proposals, but the owners moved swiftly in ratifying the proposals, ending their meeting in just over an hour. New York Giants co-owner John Mara said on Tuesday that the ejection rule was met with “some opposition” in part because coaches were worried their players would be baited into situations which would result in their ejection if they had already committed one unsportsmanlike conduct.

“There will be more discussions, and there will be another set of meetings that will happen,” Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera, one of the most vocal supporters of the rule, said Wednesday morning. “But I think the attitude, the intent and the idea of making sure that there is some sort of discipline, whether it is at the referee’s discretion or through this mechanism of two strikes and you’re out, than that might make sense.”

Newly minted San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly expressed opposition of the rule on Wednesday.

“You ever see A Few Good Men?” Kelly asked. “Why the two orders? Right? If you already have the ability to throw them out of the game, why do we have to put a second order in to throw them out of the game? Throw them out of the game. If they’re not playing the right way, and we already have the ability to eject them, why do we have to put another order in?”

The proposal for the rule originated last month when commissioner Roger Goodell mentioned it during his annual state-of-the-league press conference just before Super Bowl 50. The league’s rule-making competition committee then refined the proposal to only include unsportsmanlike conduct penalties related to punching, kicking or throwing a forearm at an opponent; using abusive language; or taunting.

Additionally, a proposal by the Baltimore Ravens to expand the list of plays subject to video review was tabled by the owners for further discussion. The owners will meet again in May.

Here’s the full list of new rules that will be implemented next season:

1. By Competition Committee; Permanently moves the line of scrimmage for Try kicks to the defensive team’s 15-yard line, and allows the defense to return any missed Try.

2. By Competition Committee; Permits the offensive and defensive play callers on the coaching staffs to use the coach-to-player communication system regardless of whether they are on the field or in the coaches’ booth.

3. By Competition Committee; Makes all chop blocks illegal. “It is not one that has overwhelmed us in injury data, but it is not one we feel good about,” McKay said.

4. By Competition Committee; Disqualifies a player who is penalized twice in one game for certain types of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls. Amended to one-year only.

5. By Competition Committee; Changes the spot of the next snap after a touchback resulting from a free kick to the 25-yard line. Amended to one-year only.

6. By Competition Committee; Expands the horse collar rule to include when a defender grabs the jersey at the name plate or above and pulls a runner toward the ground.

7. By Competition Committee; Makes it a foul for delay of game when a team attempts to call a timeout when it is not permitted to do so

8. By Competition Committee; Eliminates the five-yard penalty for an eligible receiver illegally touching a forward pass after being out of bounds and re-establishing himself inbounds, and makes it a loss of down.

9. By Competition Committee; Eliminates multiple spots of enforcement for a double foul after a change of possession.

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