13 Sports Rules In Need of Immediate Change

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While I was at Thanksgiving with my family Thursday, quite a controversial play happened in the Houston Texans-Detroit Lions game.

You’ve probably seen and heard plenty about the play by now:

Houston’s Justin Forsett ran for an 81-yard touchdown, despite it being clear that his knee and elbow had touched down during the play. Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz then threw a challenge flag, only NFL rules stipulate that all scoring plays get challenged anyway.

So, since Schwartz threw the flag and essentially created a duplicitous request for a review, everything is cool, right?


Photo by Robin Buckson/Detroit News via detroitnews.com


The NFL rules also stipulate that if a coach throws a challenge flag on a play that is automatically challenged, the review is negated and the play stands as originally called. On top of that, the offending challenger gets flagged for a 15-yard unsportmanlike conduct penalty.

This is a perfect example of the rules getting in the way of common sense.

You would think that the idea would be to get the call right, but the NFL seems more concerned with players and coaches doing things “their way,” whether that way makes sense for the spirit of competition or the enjoyment of the fans.

13 Sports Rules That Should Be Changed Right Now

That debacle got me thinking about other rules in sports that are outdated, ineffective, unfair, or just plain stupid. What follows is a list of the most egregious examples I could think of with help from my colleagues here at MSF.

If I forgot a terrible rule, let me know in the comments or on Twitter. I mainly only watch the four major sports (yes, I’m including hockey, but its classification as a “major” sport is tenuous, at best), so it’s possible I missed some stupid ones in other sports.

1. Throwing a Challenge Flag on an Automatically Reviewed Play (NFL)

Why not kick this off with the aforementioned rule that potentially cost the Lions the game on Thanksgiving?

I kind of already covered why this rule is stupid, but let me sum it up like this: with this rule, the NFL is basically saying “Sure, the referees may have missed the call, but we told you not to throw a challenge flag because we already planned on reviewing the play anyway. But you didn’t listen, so forget getting the call right, we’re going to let the ruling stand as incorrectly called and back your team up 15 yards on the next play. DON’T MESS WITH ROGER GOODELL.”

2. The “Restricted Area” (NBA & NCAA Basketball)

The “restricted area” is the arc 4 feet in front of the basket (3 feet in college) which is marked by a painted arc. If an offensive player creates contact inside this area, the call is automatically a blocking foul, regardless of whether the defender has established correct position to take a charge.

In theory, this rule is in place to limit collisions under the basket and open up play near the rim (read: dunks).

I’m not a fan of flopping, which is often the result of guys trying to get a charge call, but I do think that good defense should be rewarded. If a player establishes the correct defensive position and the offensive players crashes into him, it should be a foul on the ball handler, regardless of where the contact occurs.

Photo by Neil Enns/Storm Photos via stormbasketball.com

The other problem is that referees consistently struggle to get the calls correct, even with the circle. I think that except for very obvious contact by either player, a no-call would be best in many of these situations.

Many NBA players take advantage of this rule, crashing into defenders under the basket to draw contact and two free throws. My favorite NBA team is the Spurs, but even I admit that Tony Parker (and Manu Ginobili, in his younger days) abuses this rule as much as anyone not named LeBron or Dwyane.

3. Offsetting Technical/Personal Fouls (NBA, NFL & NCAA Basketball & Football)

We’ve all seen this a hundred times: a guy takes a cheap shot or roughs up another player, that player responds physically or verbally, and the official rings up both guys for technical fouls (basketball) or personal fouls (football).

I know that the heat of battle makes it tough to see every little ticky-tack push and shove during games, but I think the officials should decide who they think was the instigator or agressor in every such situation and levy the violation against that one player.

Offsetting double fouls are a cop-out and nothing more than the official saying “Hey guys, I don’t care who started it or whose fault this whole thing is, knock it off.”

4. The Designated Hitter (MLB)

I prefer the National League’s way of having no designated hitter, but frankly I don’t care whether baseball has a DH or not, as long as both leagues’ rules are the same.

Doesn’t it seem really stupid that we have completely different methodologies in the same sports league, and that the layout of teams is such that the conflicting methodologies must collide to determine the champion of the sport?

It’s downright absurd to me that teams manage and play all season (with the exception of interleague road games) by a certain standard and then are forced to change when the games mean the most.

Sorry, Edgar Martinez, but if it were up to me your primary position wouldn’t exist. Photo via 90feetofperfection.com

I prefer the N.L.’s take because it places an emphasis on smarter in-game managing (which, let’s be honest, still doesn’t seem that difficult) and each team has 9 players, just as the game has always dictated. The designated hitter, to me, would be like having a guy come off the bench to shoot free throws when a poor shooter gets fouled in basketball.

Whether MLB decides to go the A.L. or N.L. route, however, I don’t care. Just make it the same in both leagues.

5. Stoppage Time (Soccer)

Soccer’s biggest allure is its free-flowing nature. Having a clock that never stops allows the viewer to be engaged for the full 90 minutes. Plus, it’s impressive the endurance that the players exhibit without having built-in rest breaks like every other sport.

What seems really dumb to me (and MSF’s Josh Tinley, who pointed this out), though, is allowing the referee to arbitrarily add time at the end of the match to make up for all the time that the action was stopped for injuries, out of bounds, penalties, etc.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just stop time if something is going to take an extended amount of time to resolve (say more than 1 minute)? This would mainly be helpful for injuries (flops notwithstanding), in which players might legitimately need a few minutes to get off the field and receive medical attention.

Then, the time could still be added at the end in a specific amount as recorded by a timekeeper during the pause in the action. This would eliminate the players and fans having no real idea when a game is going end and might heighten the excitement in close games where a last minute score could make the difference.

Granted, I’m far from a knowledgable soccer fan, but this seems obvious to me.


You’ve seen the five most egregious sports rules that should be changed immediately. Now learn about 8 more that should also be changed right now, including:

  • The dumbest, most dangerous rule in hockey
  • Two NBA rules that make zero sense at all (and have swung entire playoff series!)
  • The NCAA Basketball rule with reasoning that basically contradicts what we know to be true about the sport.

Click continue to read on!

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About Keith Mullett

Keith is an Ohio-based sports and pop culture junkie who began writing for MSF in June 2011. His ramblings about sports, music, movies and books can be further enjoyed by following him on Twitter @keithmullett.

In addition to his work for MSF, Keith operates a blog called Commercial Grade, in which he critiques television commercials from the perspective of the average viewer.


  1. I hate the NFL’s defensive pass interference penalty. It is called too often, too incorrectly, and the penalty is too onerous. The NFL should use the NCAA rules of 15 yards or spot foul, whichever is less. I hate to see offense’s get first-and-goal chances for throwing up 50 yard bombs that were probably not going to be completed even if the defender was on the field.

    • I completely agree with this one. I also hate automatic first downs for defensive penalties. I mean it’s 3rd and 27 and you get a defensive holding call or illegal contact, the offense gets 5 yards and automatic first down. Really? How is that fair? I think the penalty yards should be marched off and replay 3rd down.

      Change the hash marks in college football too. It’s actually harder to kick a field goal in college then it is in the pros.

      • No, change the hash marks in PRO football they’re so close they may as well just perfectly center the ball every down. Maybe the option and other running plays might actually work if the defense didn’t just have to cover 1/2 the field due to the close to center hashes.

        • They should change college PI to pro PI. Otherwise if there is a bomb, then the corner can just tackle to wide receiver if he gets beat and save his team a touchdown

    • I think the NFL Defensive PI penalty should be more like college — max 15 yard penalty, and Defensive Illegal Contact & Face Guarding should both be re-legalized, so NFL DBs have a fighting chance against the bigger Wide Outs

      I also think the NFL Offensive PI penalty should actually be harsher — 15 yards instead of 10 yards, AND Loss of Down. Should not get another passing down chance after only a 10 yarder. Not in today’s pass happy league

  2. I think false start penalties should be removed from all professional American football, or at least determined like offsides or neutral zone infractions are for defensive players. They make the came drawn out, I don’t clearly understand why this is such a big deal deserving of penalty yards. If the player moves across the line or touches a defensive player, then it could be called. But to call it for some lineman who flinches is too stupid.

  3. Merrily Snider says:

    @Keith Mullett

    Just to clarify something….the flag being thrown on that play was not “duplicitous” because duplicitous means: “deceitfulness in speech or conduct, as by speaking or acting in two different ways to different people concerning the same matter; double-dealing. Synonyms: deceit, deception, dissimulation, fraud, guile, hypocrisy, trickery.” You might mean duplicative exactly like the original.

  4. Hockey as a “major” sport is tenuous, at best ???

    Get a life – hockey is still the fastest sport played on two feet – by any athlete !

    • What about speed skating? Isn’t it faster than hockey?

      • “What about speed skating? Isn’t it faster than hockey?”
        loll,so ridiculous…smh
        And no…its not faster than hockey.
        SenatorG is right.

    • “Hockey” is most commonly used for “Field hockey”, and so for the sport under discussion you should use the name it is widely known as: “Ice hockey”.

  5. If you are far from being an expert, then please do not comment… nothing wrong with stoppage time. If you do not like stoppage time, then watch college soccer…

  6. They don’t “arbitrarily add time” at the end of soccer matches. The referee does stop his watch. When the 45 minutes are up on the scoreboard, the referee looks at his watch to see how much time is actually left in the game. Then everyone sees how much time is left.

    • What I don’t understand is how stoppage time is always 1 minute or 2 minutes or 3 minutes exactly. If it isn’t arbitrary, wouldn’t it be more accurate to actually add 1 minute and 17 seconds of stoppage time?

      • That is a good point.

        The timing in soccer is arbitrary in the sense that the referee is allowed to let play continue if a team has an opportunity to score. In other words, he won’t blow the whistle to end the game if a team has a breakaway looking to score a goal. He would wait until that opportunity has passed. So usually what they say for stoppage time is that there will be a MINIMUM of 2 minutes left.

  7. jim coleman says:

    Maybe it is for another day, but lets visit the MLB review issue.
    I dont think that just one rule needs changed; I think the whole process needs to be thought out instead of making reviews possible in only certain circumstances

    • yes. balls and strikes should be called mechanically not by human error, and outs should be called by replay. MLB is unwatchable as NBA. the ump calls balls strikes, and pitches that were well within the strike zone are called balls. Its laughable how they refuse to replay a controversial play, because they know they got it completely wrong.

  8. Fun list, and I totally agree with most of them. But you left out one obvious dumb rule: baseball’s infield fly rule, or at least its current application. The National League Wildcard game (speaking of dumb ideas) this past season featured a play where an umpire called an infield fly on a ball that carried well into the outfield: confusing the shortstop, costing the offense a key scoring opportunity, and enraging the fans. While the spirit of the rule is sound and necessary – preventing a cheap double play – it should only be applied if the fielder actually drops the ball and attempts such a play, rather than while the ball is still in the air, possibly carrying far beyond the, you know, INFIELD.

  9. I hate soccer’s offside rule. Stops fast breaks and keeps the scoring low. Why not just make the defense play defense? Who cares if they snowbird. have a defender there with them. Works for basketball.

  10. Fumbing the ball through the end zone and out of bounds should ot esult in the bll goingto theother team at the 20. I hink the fumbling team shuld retain he ll at the spot of the fumble. I also agree that pass intereference shoul fooow college rules.

  11. Tom McKeown says:

    Great article – I agree with each of your take on these stupid rules and have had countless conversations over the years regarding most of them. There is one that really bothers me that was left out – and that is allowing a third base or first base ump make the call on a check swing in baseball. There should be no such thing as a check swing – if the player trys to hold up – it isn’t a swing anyway – why can’t the pitch determine if it is a swing or not? And allowing someone 90 to 120 feet away make the determination that the hitter broke his wrists or the bat head passed the plate?? If a guy tries to hold up his swing – it is not a swing… too many umps also can use this to satisfy their personal vendettas against certainplayers in these spots too… that rule is stupid…

  12. Did you seriously compared the shootout in the NHL to a dunk contest??? I will rest my case!

  13. I know we’re talking sports here ;), but in golf if your ball lands in a sand divot, it’s not considered ground under repair. That’s a dumb rule that needs to be changed because by definition, a golfer is repairing his divot by filling it with sand.

  14. The NFL’s overtime process, while vastly improved,
    is still unfair to the “loser” of the coinflip. Why not use the college
    system? With one change–each team should start from midfield, or possibly
    the opponent’s 40. Starting from the 25, the second team (if the first team fails to score a TD, can run 3 no-gain plays and still kick a field goal to
    win. That’s just WRONG!!
    score a TD)

    • Dave Hughes says:

      However, the NFL keeps kickoffs and punts in their overtime, helping it still resemble a real game. But, I would like to see each team get one possession each, even if the first team scores a touchdown.

  15. I just can’t stand how in NCAA basketball you can foul someone intentionally in the last 2 minutes of a game to stop the clock if your behind. (I understand the theory – give up 1 or 2 points and shoot a 3 at the other end) this almost never works, they need to cut it out and if it’s an intentional foul, give them 2 shots and the ball.

  16. The dumbest rule in football is that the ball only has to break the plain of the goal line but you have to have both feet in bounds to have a legal catch.
    If you catch it in the end zone you’re breaking the plain.

  17. The one that gets me is that scoring plays are reviewed, but plays that would have resulted in a touchdown if ruled correctly aren’t. It seems to me an official should automatically review any play in which a score may have happened.

  18. An NFL rule that never fails to get me shaking my head is enforcing a defensive penalty on an extra point on the kickoff. Just about every time this results in a touch-back. To give some bite, they should enforce the penalty after the return.

  19. steven scott says:

    Can someone explain the intentional grounding rule double standard. Intentional grounding is called if the QB throws the ball away if he is not outside the tackle box or if the ball does not cross the line of scrimmage. Oh yeah but if you spike the ball to stop the clock that is ok even if the QB never leaves the tackle box and the ball clearly never goes beyond the line of scrimmage. Explain that one NFL.

  20. 1. Throwing a Challenge Flag on an Automatically Reviewed Play (NFL)
    Why not kick this off with the aforementioned rule that potentially cost the Lions the game on Thanksgiving?
    I kind of already covered why this rule is stupid, but let me sum it up like this: with this rule, the NFL is basically saying “Sure, the referees may have missed the call, but we told you not to throw a challenge flag because we already planned on reviewing the play anyway. But you didn’t listen, so forget getting the call right, we’re going to let the ruling stand as incorrectly called and back your team up 15 yards on the next play. DON’T MESS WITH ROGER GOODELL.”

    So Texan’s coach should have been ready to throw the challenge flag as well, just so the ref’s can’t review the touchdown and reverse the call. Well worth the 15 yard penalty on the ensuing kick off.

    • Those are my thoughts exactly! the rule can be abused by the team that knows the call will be overturned if reviewed! I’d throw it on every opponent’s fumble my team recovers. That way reviewing and overturning is impossible, and we get the ball!

    • Yes, if you challenge every opponent fumble that your team recovers, you get the ball for sure even if the runner really was down prior to fumbling just with a 15 yard meaningless penalty. The rule can be abused by the team that doesn’t want the call overturned.

  21. NBA rule changes are all About Scoring. At least the dumbest NBA rule ever was eliminated. Illegal Defense? I hate the NBA. Run, Gun, slam dunk Contest. Actually boring about 97% of the time.
    The DH, “Muff”? in Football (Funny word, Incomprehensible run. Offsides in Soccer is why it will never be big in America. Makes the game slow and boring with lot’s of exciting 90 minute 1-0 games. Yawn!

  22. Awesome thinking. Every coach should have an assitant who just ells him the best time to throw the red rag. the Bengals don’t have to wory about these situations because Marvin Lewis usually Challenges a meaningless 3rd and 1 spot of the ball 2 minutes into the second or third quarter, winning by 10, which he loses so he does have any challenges or timeouts left when they are actually needed. I think he doesn’t trust himself so he just gets them out of the way. Reveiws should a 1 90 second time limit. If they can’t decide in 90 an extremely loud airhorn blows and the call stands. enough time for 60 seconds of commercials and 30 seconds of some old retired player and a wannabe ex waterboy to babble on about the play. also enough time for quick bathroom break.

  23. this was for paul. btw!

  24. Baseballs infield fly rule is not based on the infield but rather if and infield player can and should easily field the ball no matter where it is on the field, (within Reason)

  25. mike bennett says:

    14. The ‘trapezoid’ in the NHL. This rule penalizes the five or six goalies who can really handle the puck and prevents goalies from playing loose pucks behind the net towards the corners, which leads to the big hits and injuries from players getting run on icings and dump-ins.
    15. The Lucky Dog in NASCAR. Why should a car a lap down get rewarded when the caution comes out?

  26. Not what I would call a stupid rule, but more a bit of a peeve of mine. I don’t like the MLB rule that says baserunners get two bases on a ground rule double. The majority of the time a runner on 1st would have scored had the ball not bounced over the fence, but has to stop at 3rd. There shouldn’t, in effect, be a penalty because the ball bounced over the fence. Let all baserunners score.

  27. It would not be changing a rule but I would like to see the goalposts moved closer together in the NFL to make it less automatic than it has become.

  28. My change would be fouls is basketball. Give the fouled team the option to decline the foul.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Basketball should be refereed like soccer…if the foul benefits the defense, like stopping a breakaway lay up, then the referee should not call the foul and just say and signal “play on,” like in soccer, telling everyone that they saw the fouls, but they ant going to call it because it benefits e defense.

  29. i hate the half a distance rule in football if your on defense and ball is on 1ft line you can guess count and jump and only lose inches while i if you move early on offense you gotta go 5 yards back and it applies for all penatlies

    • Yes but there is the flipside of this rule (which makes it perfectly fair):

      When the offense is backed up on their own 1 yard, or even 1 foot line, and the commit a foul (as long as it is not in the endzone), there penalty is half the distance to the goal, there is very little yardage penalized. However, a defensive foul, is a minimum of 5 yards and the offense is moved off of their own goal line

  30. Get rid of the ridiculous college football rule where you have to sit a play out if your helmet comes off…so dumb. Also the quick technical fouls in the NBA. They give those out at the drop of a hat these days.

  31. How is it that not one person has mentioned THE DUMBEST and most unexplainable call in any sport? Yes, I’m talking about the Tuck Rule. I don’t care who your team is, a fumble is a fumble, PERIOD!!!

  32. Patrick Oliver says:

    You should have listed the six foul rule in pro basketball. Six fouls no matter the length of game. The league should add an extra foul per OT.

  33. Theeplayer says:

    I think the neutral zone infraction should be abolished, the defensive player should not be punished because he makes the offensive player move before the ball is hiked, the offensive player knows when the ball will be hiked not the defensive player. At one time the defense could cross the line of scrimmage and get back with no penalty as long the ball was not hiked.

  34. Dave Hughes says:

    A couple of comments here from the perspective of a soccer referee and basketball coach…not stopping the clock during soccer games makes the game different AND better. At pro games stoppage time is revealed to everyone by the fourth official, and at lower level games, it is revealed out loud by the center referee. Also, the reason why there is alternated possession rule in basketball below the NBA is because referees CANNOT toss the ball up fairly and consistently, and the players often tip it on the way up! And, while I don’t agree with what exactly happened in the Bengals/Raiders game, any whistle, whether it be on purpose or inadvertent, stops play in EVERY sport, because that’s what whistle do!

  35. You could write an entire novel on the weird NASCAR rules that make no sense and should either be eliminated or standardized across all tracks, teams, and competition

    For example, at Superspeedways (Talladega & Daytona), it is illegal to pass another car inside the inner white boundry line. Every other track/race on the schedule, perfectly legal to pass another car inside that white boundry line.

    And that is just scratching the surface

  36. NHL/Hockey rule change:

    When a penalty results in a Penalty Shot (PS) award for the other team instead of a Power Play, (PP) the team awarded the PS should have the option to take the PS chance or play out a regular PP

    Also, when you are trailing by 1 goal and have a PP towards the end of the game, and say the 3rd period ends and you still have 90 seconds left on the PP, the period/game should extend to the end of the PP, or all penalties with under 2 minutes to go in the 3rd period should have the option to be PS chances. Otherwise, there is not enough of a “penalty” of the leading team, if you are only going to be short-handed for 20, 30, even 60 seconds after committing the penalty

  37. Basketball (certainly all levels bellow NCAA, and possibly NCAA) rule change:

    Eliminate the 3 Point shot for all levels High School and lower, and possibly even the NCAA level (certainly keep it at the professional leagues/NBA/FIBA levels though)

    Eliminating the 3 Point shot at the lower levels would emphasize better offensive & defensive skill development & would enhance offensive play design & execution

    Basketball was played for years with no 3 point shot at all

    • Dave Hughes says:

      The little kids that can’t take it inside love the three point bomb, and so do I, and it’s here to stay!

    • I live in NY State and at all levels below JV, there is no 3-point basket. If a kid fires a shot at the buzzer from beyond the 3-point arc an it goes in, it’s still only 2 points.

  38. Football (High School level and lower)

    Take the facemasks off the helmets. This will help to teach developing players that the head is not a weapon, and to protect yourself & your head. With that cage in front of you, a false sense of security develops

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Forget that, the only way to stop them from using the helmet as a weapon is remove the helmet!

      • I could go with total removal of helmet before the High School Level, but at the HS Level, I’d transition to helmet without the facemask

        Soft shell helmets need to be looked at — perhaps even the old school leather helmets

        The perception that the helmet protects you is very dangerous and opens up the problem of using the head as a weapon

  39. I think there should be a rule that you proofread your article before you hit the submit button

  40. Except that there is everything wrong with it because there is no logical argument for it whatsoever. And there is no reason whatsoever that it couldn’t at least be done objectively by keeping track of how much time was used up with the game not being played and add exactly that much time on at the end, instead of “the rulebook doesn’t even define the game length, the game is over whenever the referees jolly well feel like it’s a good time to end it” …. and statistic bear out that officials consistently add too little stoppage time when the home team is ahead and too much when the home team is behind, so it’s an easily abused system as well.

  41. Yeah, Let’s do it the NL way. Then we all get the joy of watching guys who consistently bat .085 (mostly by bunting) rather than watching players like Edgar Martinez show their batting prowess. This argument is so lame and doesn’t even take into account that if you really wanted to play the “old-fashioned way,” you get rid of the set up man and the closer too.

  42. I’d have to check with you here. Which is not something I usually do! I enjoy reading a post that will make people think. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!

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