Back in March, we detailed the plethora of new rules that will take effect in the upcoming NFL season. Among them was a measure banning a wedge formation on kickoffs.
The rule says that three or more players on the return team can't form a shoulder-to-shoulder alignment to block for the ball carrier. It's a fine idea that was designed to protect the safety of players. However, the enforcement of the anti-wedge measure is rife with potential problems.
As a New York Times article detailed this week, intent will be the major factor on whether a return team is whistled for a 15-yard penalty for forming a wedge:
If three or four players come together at the last moment to throw a block, that is not intentionally forming a wedge and would not be penalized, [NFL head of officiating Mike] Pereira said.
Oh, come on. A fair number of NFL officials can't tell whether a ball crosses a stationary plane. Now they're supposed to determine the collective intent of 20 men hurling themselves at each other at full speed?
Either something is illegal or it isn't. If the rule is designed to ban wedges, what does it matter if said wedge was intentional? A majority of helmet-to-helmet hits are unintentional, but that's irrelevant when a penalty is assessed. It should be the same way on kickoffs. Either have a blanket ban or make it a more-specific rule, like 'no wedges allowed inside the 25-yard line'.
Aside from being nearly impossible to flag accurately, the new rule continues an bothersome trend of sports asking officials to gauge intent. Baseball has to deal with the question of whether a pitcher intentionally throws at a batter and the NBA playoffs have been dominated by talk of flagrant fouls. In an age where every ruling is immediately dissected on the Internet, giving refs more responsibilities is asking for trouble.