Rules Changes that Could Enhance the Indoor Football Experience

By Marcelo Metzelar, Director of IFL Coverage

Rules of the game can make the difference between something fun or something stupid. NBA and college basketball have different rules. Some people prefer NBA, others prefer college basketball. Having played some rugby union in my younger years, I cannot watch a rugby league game. The rules are different enough for me to not understand what’s going on. The same can be said for some of the different indoor/arena leagues out there. In an ideal world, if all the leagues to play by one set of rules, ignoring patents and proprietary rights, what rules would I like to see in a uniform game? The following are rules that I would like to see and by no means are indicative of what will happen.

Rule 1: Rebound Nets

The Arena Football League created the patent on the rebound nets. However, this is one rule I would like to see every league have. The American Arena League’s uno rule or the National Arena League’s deuce are placed to increase entertainment value for kickoffs. However, hitting touchbacks gives the team possession on the 20-yard line. It would be much more entertaining to see that ball rebound off the net and making the team earn their field position versus expecting football’s 42nd best kicker and beyond (if you consider NFL and CFL) to hit a 50-yard field goal on a goal post that is half the width.

Rule 2: Iron Man Football

Iron Man football refers to players playing both offense and defense. Outdoor football has gone away from this concept, and the indoor game followed suit about a decade ago. However, imagine being a defensive back that just got toasted for a long touchdown. Though the chances of making an interception returned for a touchdown are greater in indoor leagues, it is still not a frequent as the opportunity to line up against that same man with the roles reversed.

Rule 3: 22 Man Roster Limit

This goes hand in hand with the Iron Man rule. Requiring fewer players allows for a greater slice of the pie for each player. Fewer players reduces payroll. A lower payroll, could also encourage smaller colleges and high schools (I know there’s 8 man football) to host teams and legitimize the indoor version, a la Rugby Sevens.

Rule 4: No Jack in the Box

AFL has the Jack backer staying within five yards of the line of scrimmage keeps that 5th man inside the box. The promotes more passing, and discourages the running game. That is what prevents big plays. How? If a defense knows the offense will pass every time, they will stay back. Adding a threat of a running game forces corners to be aware of running plays, and forces defenses to make a choice between keeping a jack backer or a safety. Get rid of the Jack backer and watch the running game explode. The Indoor Football League has a much stronger running game than the AFL, and that is because they do not use the Jack in the Box. It is almost like they are two different games.

Rule 5: Four Man Line Redefined

As the rule stands right now, there is one split end numbered 1-49 or 80-99, and one tight end usually numbered 50-79. Those are lineman numbers. The tight end must declare himself, however, if he had a wide receiver’s number exclusively, this would remove the need to declare AND avoid the gimmicky tight end screen which is to indoor football what the fumble-rooski is to the outdoor game.

Rule 6: Double Tight End and Tight Slot Formations

The short yardage game is a part of football. With limited substitutions, this significantly opens up coaching philosophies and team styles of play. Allowing two tight end sets or a tight slot allows for power football. However, is the second tight end just a bigger receiver who can still play safety or defensive back or is he still a smaller wide receiver type. This will create different and unusual match ups. Does a team select bigger receiver types at the sacrifice of speed? Does a smaller, faster team have what it takes to last a 14-18 game season including playoffs? These are the philosophies that can change the game. When University of Houston was averaging a point per minute with their run and shoot offense in the late 80s/early 90s, many teams went with that philosophy. When University of Miami’s 4-3 defense, which was predicated on speed, shut them down, college football started recruiting speed and thus, changed the game. What would indoor football bring when you allow them to compress or expand formations?

Rule 7: Glass on the Boards

This is a novel idea. I figure, if NHL and NLL do it, why not indoor football? Sure, people may say that a flying puck or lacrosse ball could hurt someone but the MASL does the same thing. If a soccer ball can bounce off the glass, imagine the crazy plays from the football coming off the glass. On kickoffs, there is a gap between the wall and the rebound net. If there is glass there, it would create another surface the ball can bounce from and keep the ball in play. Glass on the boards would also prevent receivers from falling on their head after they jump and flip over the boards. Usually, behind the wall is a hard slab of concrete, and that is painful and dangerous even with the helmet. Economically, it would prevent balls from going into the stands (that’s the drawback), and save teams from replacing balls. Also, arenas would have to do less work in getting a field ready in stadiums that are shared by hockey teams or arena soccer teams.

Rule 8: One-yard Neutral Zone

As with the CFL, there should be a one-yard neutral zone between the defense and their near tip of the ball. As the rule is now, the defensive ends must make contact with the offensive tackles prior to reaching the quarterback. Giving the one yard cushion would give the tackles a better chance at protecting their quarterback and allow for more offense.

These are but a few suggestions. Some of these are major rules changes and I cannot foresee ever making all eight in a single off season. Drastic changes like these are reserved for trying times, as when Walter Camp was rewriting the rules of football to become less like rugby.  But, I believe, one or two of the rules changes would make for an interesting game.

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