Sports Law Blog
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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"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.