Why has there been so little innovation in both professional and college football?
New offensive and defensive schemes happen every once in awhile, like the Wildcat offense or the Tampa 2 defense, but these changes are small variations on typical offenses and defenses. Teams still line up in similar formations, drop back in the same way, kickoff the same way, punt the same way and kick field goals the same way.
The two changes that I thought of while watching football over New Years were both special teams related, but it seems to me that coaches would be able to come up with and implement many new things on both sides of the ball.
Mason Crosby of the Packers attempted a 69 yard free kick at the end of the first half of the Packers last game against the Lions. He was 1 yard short. His run-up was only 2 extra steps (1 more back, 1 more over) compared to a normal field goal, yet he could kick it straight and 68 yards without a problem. Why don’t teams ever experiment with trying extremely long field goals 8-9 yards behind the line, instead of the normal 7? Kickers would be able to run up farther, and the extra yard or two would allow the line to hold. Teams would rarely try these long FGs because they would give up field position, but it could be an important weapon near the end of the half or in close, late games.
Teams could call a punt play where they kicked it low, behind the receiving team, trying to hit the receiving team to cause a fumble. If the kick missed anyone on the receiving team, it would roll downfield, negating any chance for a return.
So, why haven’t there been huge shifts in the NFL or NCAA football, like there has been in almost all other industries?
I think it is because coaches fear being fired for not just doing poorly, but doing poorly a different way. If coaches go with the conventional wisdom and fail, they will not be criticized as harshly as if they experiment and find new ways to fail. If they succeed, like Mike Martz’s high-flying pass offense for the Rams called “The Greatest Show on Turf,” they are given some credit, but when the same coach experiences a minimal decline, he is criticized more harshly than a conventional coach. For example, when Martz decided to pass in a late game situation, just like he had during other times in the game and failed, he was roundly criticized. If he had run and failed, the players would have been criticized for not executing. There is no upside for innovation here.
Coaches seem to have a longer leash if they do what everyone else is doing and they are not rewarded for taking risks by innovating. This conservative attitude and intolerance to difference stifles innovation in football.
It also stifles innovation in large companies. Startups have the advantage of not having to worry about being wrong and second guessed by bosses and the media. More tolerance to innovation in both football and corporate america would be good for everyone involved.