The NFL has made many changes in the game for safety in recent years. There are improvements in helmets and padding. There are changes in drug testing. There are updates in technology surrounding the game. But what about the field on which football is played?
We’re not talking artificial turf. We’re talking about the size of the playing surface. The National Football Post reported this weekend that the NFL has considered — and will again debate — increasing the size of the football field to mirror the width of that the Canadian Football League field.
The NFL field 120 yards by 53 1/2 yards wide. The CFL is 150 yards by 65 yards.
The report said the NFL is only talking about the width of the field — not the CFL signature 20-yard end zones.
“I’m not so sure we shouldn’t think about widening the field,” former competition committee member Bill Polian said. “It’s a radical idea, but I think it’s worth thinking about. You would have more space and perhaps a safer game. I say that based on my CFL experience. There are less collisions of that type in the Canadian game.”
Polian knows the CFL better than most, having built Grey Cup winners in Montreal and Winnipeg before becoming a six time executive of the year winner in the NFL.
The thinking is a wider field would spread out bodies over more space, reducing hits in the middle of the field. The down the field game wouldn’t change much, but box play could be considerably different.
At least one Hall of Famer who played in both leagues likes the idea.
Pro Football hall of fame quarterback Warren Moon, who played in the CFL for six years before coming to the NFL, said there are fewer head to head collisions by big men in the CFL–and that is significant to him. “The lower impact hits I think cause more problems over a period of time because there are more of them,” he said. “A wide receiver doesn’t get the number of hits a linebacker or lineman gets on a day to day basis. Those hits accumulate over time and probably do more damage than a big hit a receiver might get a few times a season.”
No one on the current competition committee has spoken about this, but Polian, a former member, is a big fan of the idea and likes the fact it could lead to even more scoring.
“The farther a player has to run in terms of contact, the less ferocious the contact is going to be,” Polian said. “We know the most ferocious hits come from guys who are 10 yards apart and lay each other out. You have fewer higher power collisions in the Canadian League than here.”
A wider field almost certainly would lead to more scoring, and a shift in the offensive-defensive balance of the NFL. Schemes would be affected. This might not be a bad thing for the NFL. But it would be a radical thing, to use Polian’s word.
“It would be hard for defenses to stop the offenses,” Moon said. “They are having a hard time stopping them now. It would be harder with a bigger field. There would be a lot more scoring, I know that. If you make the field bigger, bigger lanes, bigger areas, it will be tougher for those defensive backs to cover.”
Some believe NFL players have outgrown their field, which is part of the problem with head injuries. CFL-sized fields also may encourage faster, more athletic, and smaller players because covering ground would become a more valued asset.
– Bill Bradley, contributing editor