ORLANDO — Bill Belichick has famously lived “A Football Life,” has been a part of the NFL since 1975, and obviously cares very deeply about both the league and the sport.
Given his legendary stature, he was asked in early January if he would ever consider using his voice to help shape the game.
“I’m not here to solve the world’s problems,” Belichick said, 10 days before his team’s playoff game against the Colts. “I’m just trying to win a football game.”
Belichick usually stays in his own lane when it comes to league matters, opting to work within whatever confines the league hands him and the other 31 teams. In league meetings, Belichick sometimes uses his clout and intellect to raise objections to new proposals and make owners think about all of the ramifications, but he rarely serves as a catalyst for change.
That has changed this year, with Belichick submitting four rules proposals that would alter the game. One of his proposals is quite radical — moving the extra point line of scrimmage from the 2 to the 25-yard-line — and he is bringing voice to what he believes are four important issues overall.
In Belichick’s perfect football world, the extra point would become a more competitive play, more cameras would be placed on the sidelines to help officials with instant replay, coaches would be allowed to challenge any play, and goal posts would extend 5 feet higher to make it easier for officials to determine if a field goal is good.
The NFL owners will vote on these proposals and more Wednesday morning as they wrap up their annual league meetings.
Belichick has voiced his concerns before, but this year he’s finally becoming a man of action.
“We just felt, organizationally, it was time to put those proposals in front of the membership and have a discussion about it,” Belichick said. “If there’s any feeling for it, fine. If not, that’s fine, too.”
Belichick conceded that some of his proposals are probably not realistic, and serve more as concepts that can start the discussion. The proposal about the extra point probably fits this description — the owners aren’t going to approve such a drastic change — but it’s a good way to get the smart minds thinking about a way to make the extra point a more competitive play.
At the very least, his proposal to heighten the goal posts should pass in a vote of the NFL’s owners Wednesday morning. The proposal to add more cameras could pass, as well.
He’s obviously quite passionate about improving the game, particularly on special teams, where the extra point has lost its meaning and touchbacks have become far too prevalent, in his mind.
“There hasn’t been a field goal under 20 yards that’s been missed in 10 years,” he said. “When the extra point was part of the game originally, we had players in other positions who were kicking, surfaces were a lot less ideal than what they are now. It was a tougher play.
“Now, we’ve made it a non-play, and I don’t think non-plays are good for the game. Just like I don’t think putting the ball on the 40-yard line and kicking into the end zone or even putting on the 35, and having over 50 percent touchback rate, I don’t think that’s an exciting play.
“I can’t imagine the fans waiting to see a 99 percent extra point, and then an over-50-percent touchback play. Personally, I don’t think that’s great for the game.”
He’s also quite passionate about the proposal to heighten the goal posts, and it’s not just because of Justin Tucker’s game-winning field goal for Baltimore in 2012.
“I’m telling you, any kick that’s not inside the 10-yard line or outside the 45-yard line goes over the top of the uprights,” he said. “I mean, they all do. Even the guys at the combine who aren’t even in the league, that’s where the ball travels.
“So, to make the officials have to make that judgment, whether it is or it isn’t, the angle and all that, I mean, I think we should try to take that judgment out of the game if we can and get it right.”
Belichick doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel. He just looking out for the best interests of the NFL and trying to reduce some of the controversy and inconsistency. Why can a coach challenge some plays, but not others, especially penalties? It’s a reasonable question without a reasonable answer.
“I’m not proposing more challenges,” he said. “All I’m saying is, as a coach, if you want to challenge a play, I think you should be able to challenge it. For the officials themselves, it’s challenging. I think it simplifies it.
“And I understand it’s a judgment call. So, if I throw a challenge on an offensive holding play and they look at it, and they don’t think it’s holding, I lose the challenge. But if it’s an egregious play, I don’t see why it should not be allowed to be challenged when it affects the outcome of the game.
“If we fundamentally want to try to get the games right and the plays right, then I don’t see why they should be excluded.
“It’s not going to slow the game down. It’s no different than if you challenged another play.”
Why did Belichick suddenly grow a voice? Part of me wonders if he sees his NFL mortality approaching, and he’s starting to think about his legacy. Another part of me thinks he’s simply tired of the Competition Committee’s rulings, and his proposals are a way for him to get around the committee and speak directly to the 32 owners.
Either way, it’s good that a man of Belichick’s stature is using his clout to affect positive change in the game he obviously loves dearly.
“We all know Bill is one of the godfathers of our game right now, and he’s got such an intuitive mind as far as this game goes,” said Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff, a six-year employee of the Patriots and one of Belichick’s good friends. “Nothing ever surprises me as far as his insight and his projections, and they’re all very valid points.
“What’s great about Bill is he always has the best interest of the game in mind, and he’s such a football historian and so protective of the virtues of this sport. Wildly admirable.”Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.