United Code Gridiron Football.

A Noble Attempt to Make American Rules Football Safer.

American rules football needs to change, and change now, or risk extinction. This is an attempt to do that.


To truly understand the current player health crisis in American football today and the ramifications it could have on the sport for years to come, we must first go back to the first game ever played, in 1869. The legendary game between Rutgers and Princeton was actually played under soccer rules, or something very similar to the rules established by the FA. This is important. Concurrently, rugby was being developed in the years to come, and gridiron rules and rugby would have a push and pull relationship.

One of the most important divergences in American rules from rugby was forward blocking. In both codes of rugby, this is still illegal. A player on the possessing team cannot be downfield between the ball and the goal line. This is interference, and will be whistled as offsides. American rules, such as it existed at this point, legalized forward blocking. The result was a formation called the "flying wedge", also the name of an ancient military maneuver, which basically entailed a team's forwards linking up and charging at full speed downfield, and the defense would respond in kind.

The result was dozens of in-game fatalities and disabilities. Like, actually dozens, possibly in the hundreds.

Football grew out of mob sport, where people would just join in on games if they saw one being played, and by this point it had a decidedly negative public image. Public figures wanted the sport banned, calling it a threat to the health and safety of young people.

It's commonly said that Teddy Roosevelt threatened to ban the sport if changes weren't made, but this isn't exactly true. Roosevelt was a fan of the sport and his sons played it. He wanted to save it. The outcome of a meeting between Roosevelt and officials from Yale, Harvard, and Princeton, and experimental reforms by John Outland in Kansas (including three downs, as used in Canada) was what would become the NCAA. The NCAA's original purpose, beyond the python it is today, was threefold: standardize American rules in the interest of safety, regulate intercollegiate play, and regulate collegiate teams.

The mass formation, like the flying wedge, was banned, and the forward pass, which had been illegal but creative types had found sneaky ways of flaunting, was legalized. The number of players at the scrimmage line was mandated at seven, and pushing and pulling were banned. All of these had a radical impact on the game, in that the game was no longer extremely likely to result in someone being literally killed on the field as the result of play.

Fast forward to now.

We are at a similar juncture today.

Concussions and their aftereffects are, very literally, killing players. I saw a man nearly die on the field a week ago. They're not dying on the field yet, but they might as well be with the horrible effects that concussions have on the brain for years.

The sport has to radically change, or it will die.

And I've proposed reforms.

Will it dramatically change the kind of person who plays? Yes. But will it keep the sport alive? Also yes. And is it worth it if what happened to Tua Tagovailoa never happens to another football player during a game ever again? Absolutely. 1000000%.

This is not a new sport. This is not rules for a new league. These are reforms to the existing American rules. This is not a thought experiment. It is a call to action, and I plan on contacting my state's high school athletics association to talk about them.

I will not ever see any player, from youth to hardened vet, experience what I've seen in these last 15 years ever again if I can ever help it.

This ruleset is modular; it can be played on an American or Canadian rules field, with 11 or 12 players a side, or even platoon-less (11/12 players who play the whole game.)

SAFETY-RELATED CHANGES: Changes that can and should be applied to competitive contact American football, on all levels of play, as soon as possible.

Changes to Equipment.

Protective equipment containing metals and hard plastics are outlawed, except for protective cups and approved metal or plastic studs for cleats.

Team kits will consist of: protective "integrated" shirts and girdles with webbed padding, shirts and shorts made of a breathable fabric, and an adapted scrum cap made to be thicker than its rugby counterpart and with a smooth surface that a team decal can be printed on. The scrum cap will not reduce concussions, but that's also not its purpose.

Use of a sturdy mouthguard is required, as that has been shown to reduce the initial damage of head trauma.

Changes to Tackling Rules.

Tackling rules, the most permissive of any code of football anywhere on the planet, are aligned with those of rugby union:

All of these are grouped under an "illegal tackle" penalty and are termed a major infraction. (see: Changes to Discipline.)

Tacklers must wrap up while tackling. Not doing so will not count as a tackle and the ball-carrier can continue moving.

Changes to Concussion Policy.

Players with symptoms of a concussion will be pulled from play immediately and may not return to play that day, and must be evaluated by a medical professional immediately after the injury.

Players with a concussion or suspected concussion must undergo a mandatory 24 hour period of complete rest. This means no driving, no drinking, and no cognitive ("thinking") activities like reading, television, or other media, or body. The player should not be left alone during this 24 hour period.

After this 24 hour period, they must go through a mandatory 6 days of relative rest, that is, rest that does not aggravate the symptoms of the concussion. Cautious reintroduction of cognitive (“thinking”) activities are allowed following an obligatory 24 hours of complete (physical and cognitive) rest as long as symptoms related to the concussion are not aggravated.

After the one week physical rest period the player must be symptom free or if pre-injury symptoms existed, these must have returned to pre concussion level at rest; should be cleared by a medical practitioner or approved healthcare provider prior to starting a return-to-play programme; and must follow (and complete) this return-to-play programme.

The return-to-play programme consists of thus, each stage taking at least 24 hours:

It is strongly recommended that, in all cases of concussion or suspected concussion, the player is referred to a medical professional for diagnosis and guidance as well as return to play decisions, even if the symptoms resolve.

Players with a history of two or more concussions within the past year maybe at greater risk of further brain injury and slower recovery and should seek medical attention from practitioners experienced in concussion management before return to play. In addition to a history of multiple concussions, players with unusual presentations or prolonged recovery should be assessed and managed by health care providers with experience in sports-related concussions.

For players under 18, the durations of each step should be doubled.

Changes to Gameplay.

The number of downs is reduced from four to three, to avoid the grinding trench combat that leads to most line injuries.

The neutral zone is widened to a full yard, allowing linemen to form their stances before contact.

Illegal shift is abolished, allowing multiple players in motion and for recievers to get a head start from behind the line of scrimmage as long as they do not cross the line before the ball is snapped; a head start reduces the risk of injury from starting off-the-burst. Consequently, the pre-1978 rules regarding reciever coverage are back, and "illegal contact downfield" becomes redundant, since that rule was implemented to allow recievers a freer burst from the line of scrimmage.

Sprinting, or "full speed" (which is what the game is played at presently), is heavily discouraged unless in bursts in open field without a risk of injury. The speed of the game is the leading cause of serious injury in the game today, and the co-factor in why tackles are so lethal (due to the basic laws of collision physics).

Kicking rules are significantly overhauled:

  • The standard kickoff is abolished in favor of a punt-off from the scoring team's 35 yard line.
  • PATs become an unblocked placekick from a tee or a drop kick from the 25 yard line at the closest marker in line with where the touchdown was scored: the left sideline, left hash, midway, right hash, or right sideline.
  • The "no-yards" halo rule of Canadian rules is made the law. Returners are given a five yard "halo", allowing them five contact-free yards to recover the ball.
  • Changes to Discipline.

    The penalty system is completely overhauled, with penalty now being graded into 'minor' infractions, concerning matters of procedure, and 'major' infractions, concerning unsafe play and objectional conduct.

    Minor infractions by the offense are enforced with a plus-half yardage penalty (half the distance to the new set of downs added on to the existing yardage, rounded up to the nearest whole number; 1st and 10 becomes 1st and 15, 3rd and 6 becomes 3rd and 9, etc) and a repeat of the down. Minor infractions by the defense are enforced the inverse way; the distance to the new downs are reduced by half. If the yardage was already at 1 yard, the new downs are awarded.

    Major infractions by the offense are enforced with a double-yardage penalty (the distance to the down is doubled and added to the current down) and loss of down. If committed on 3rd down, it would mean an automatic turnover on downs. Major infractions by the defense, again, work in the opposite way; 3rd and 6 would become a 12 yard gain, and the gain of a new set of downs.

    Offensive pass interference is deemed a minor infraction, and defensive pass interference can be graded as either depending on the severity of the interference.

    Additionally, on a major infraction, the offended side can choose to take a free penalty kick at the spot of the foul. The new PAT rules apply here: it is an unblocked place or drop kick, but placed at the hash the ball was snapped from on the offending play. This kick is worth 2 points. The offended side then gets the ball back, regardless of if the kick is made, after a punt-off from the 35 yard line.

    Players guilty of a major infraction must be carded.

    A yellow card is a warning and means that the player must sit for 7 minutes. Players who get two yellow cards must sit for the remainder of the game.

    A red card means immediate ejection from the game, plus an automatic one game suspension, and is only given in cases where the guilty player seriously endangered the health or life of another player.

    Carded players can be substituted.

    OTHER GAMEPLAY CHANGES: Changes to the rules of American football that are not directly related to player safety, but compensate for the new look and speed of the sport.

    Only one foot in-bounds is required to complete a legal catch.

    Kicking rules are aligned with rugby union and Canadian football:

  • The ball can be kicked at any point on the field of play by any player, but may only be recovered or touched by players of the kicking team who are behind the ball from the spot of the kick.
  • A kick that clears the uprights is deemed a field goal and the kicking team is awarded 3 points.
  • A kick that goes out of the back of the end zone is deemed a single and the kicking team is awarded 1 point.

    Teams will have three kits: a primary color kit to be used at home, a secondary color kit for away matches, and a white kit to be used at away games if the kit of the home team is of a similar color.