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Sunday, September 24, 2006
Let's Not Go Crazy: NFL Rules on Eliciting Crowd Noise

The New York Times' John Branch has an interesting story today on NFL efforts to overcome crowd noise ("For NFL, Crowd Noise Has Become a Headache," 9/24/2006). The NFL has been fielding more and more complaints from teams that crowd noise has led to too many off-side penalties. Basically, the louder the crowd, the less teammates are able hear each other before a play begins. It is especially a problem for quarterbacks and their offensive lines.

Although the NFL rule book specifies that a home team can be penalized if its crowd becomes too loud, that rule hasn't been enforced. And it hasn't been enforced because a lot of NFL fans like the crowd being "the 12th player" for the home team: very passionate fans can disrupt the visiting team and rattle its players, thus becoming almost defacto members of the home team. So the ability of fans to disrupt the visiting team sort of rewards the "talents" of the real rabid fans.

But new NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would like to address player complaints about these rabid fans. Wisely, he is not following the playbook of Boston University for regulating crowd behavior. Instead, Goodell suggests placing microphones in quarterbacks’ helmets and speakers in the helmets of other offensive players, so that play calls and snap counts can be heard despite the noise. Quarterbacks can already use microphones for communication with their head coach, but those communications are cut off with 15 seconds left on the play clock.

Whether or not microphones and speakers are used, it doesn't appear that Goodell will lighten up NFL rules on how teams can elicit reactions from fans. As detailed last Wednesday in the Seattle Times, NFL teams cannot use certain electronic messages or slogans to get the crowd going, including the following:
"Let's go crazy"
"Pump it up"
"Let's hear it!"
"12th Man"
There are even NFL rules on when the chant "De-fense!" can be encouraged.

It's interesting to compare the crowd behavior policies of Boston University and the NFL. Boston University polices the crowd and doesn't let fans swear, while the NFL polices the teams and doesn't let them rile up the fans. The NFL is also considering new technologies that would allow players to overcome crowd noise. No pun intended, but it sounds like that might be the best idea.


There's a secondary benefit to curbing crowd noise: the NFL won't have to figure out how to close-caption crowd noise to satisfy the National Association of the Deaf.

Blogger ChapelHeel -- 9/25/2006 8:17 AM  

Good point! ("hearing impaired").

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/25/2006 10:50 AM  

This is pretty ridiculous. Even the restriction on "stadium-led chants" is pretty brutal. Will this be the end of the decibel meter graphic on stadium big screens?

Blogger WMUpsci_student -- 9/25/2006 8:46 PM  

It would seem as if some NFL teams are intent on destroying the in-game fan experience for the benefit of television viewers. In the process, the NFL may be putting its long term viability in some danger.

Part of the fan experience during sporting events is to be able to cheer (civilly) and feeling like you have some effect on your teams, primarily through morale.

In this instance, football is at a great advantage - there is an incentive for fans to A) show up at the games and B) be involved in the game (eg. making noise at the appropriate times) because there will be a DIRECT and PROVEN causality between their noise and the teams' performance on the field (unlike hockey and even baseball where such extrapolations are impossible). This means that fans of well-supported teams will have to be football-knowledgable (to know when to make noise) and to actually give a damn thereby creating a sense of community for fans within the stadium. This enthusiasm generally translates into increased fanaticism by proxy (classic example being the father-son bondage via a trip to a game) which, in turn, leads to sustainable support over generations.

The NFL must also believe that lessening crowd noise will result in higher quality football (less muffed snap counts and offsides) which would presumably please TV viewers. However, I would posit that part of an engaging TV experience is feeling that you are part of said larger community (hence the emphasis on watching the "big game" together). Crowd noise is welcome and creates ambience - I personally enjoy watching the enthusiasm of fans at Arrowhead, Qwest and Lambeau while watching the Cards is difficult due to the apathy of the crowd which comes through the TV (at least that was the case at Sun Devil stadium). After all, who didn't get goosebumps while watching Saints fans finally having celebrating and blowing the roof off the Superdome?

Anonymous Jason Chung -- 9/28/2006 1:44 AM  

Thanks for these comments. Just to respond to the last two:

Western Michigan, I'm not sure about the future of the decibel meter graphic on stadium big screens. I guess the NFL could say that it--like the chant "de-fense"--can still be used at appropriate times, whatever "appropriate" actually means.

Jason, I agree, crowd noise is very much a part of the experience, and it's in part what makes attending games much more fun than watching them on TV.

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