Football Innovation – Penalties

This little wrinkle that I add to the game was born way back in the mid-60’s.  I was playing a game with a buddy of mine and he was coaching the Packers.  Late in the first half he ran Bart Starr . . . I’m not sure why . . . maybe he was just trying to run the clock out.  Well, the play result was a TD(TE), and the penalty was on me.  So, Bart Starr, who probably ran the 40 in about 9 seconds, scored on an 86 yard run!

It was then that I realized that the TD(TE) penalty was nuts!!  And that yardage should be determined by the player’s card – and NOT a penalty number.  So, it was at this point that I started reading all penalties differently.  If a penalty number came up, I would acknowledge that there was a flag on the play, but I would ignore the yardage listed on the penalty number and re-roll and look at either the running-back’s or the quarterback’s card to get the result, and then determine what the penalty was.  This way, the yardage gained or lost would be more indicative of that player’s actual performance, and not skewed by some very random and unrealistic big play result.  So, now, Bart Starr could never again gallop 86 yards for a TD!

Also, this rule comes with another important benefit, and that is the fact that you can now have offsetting penalties!  Because, if the original dice roll results in a penalty, and you have to re-roll to get your result, there is a chance that you could roll another penalty, resulting in two flags on the same play!  And, for me, this typically happens once or twice a game.  And, at least to me, this replicates real life in a more efficient way than the game company’s treatment of penalties.

Finally, there are dead-ball fouls – False Start, Encroachment, Delay-of-Game.  These occur prior to the ball being snapped and the ref will immediately blow his (or her) whistle and play stops.  But, not in APBA!  You must run a complete play and then roll for the penalty before finding out that a dead ball infraction has occurred.

Well, this was another thing that kind of drove me crazy.  But, years later, when I had my face-to-face league in Tampa, we created a matchup system to allow individual players ratings to have more impact on plays.  After the defensive coach set his defense verbally, the offensive coach would reveal his play.  Then the defensive coach would take the top card from the match-up deck to see if any of the players on the field might impact how the play result would be read.  And, after using that system for a year, I realized that we could “fix” this dead-ball penalty issue by adding these penalties to the matchup cards.  Then, when the defensive coach revealed the match-up card, a small percentage of the results would simply indicate that there was a False Start, Encroachment or Delay-of-Game penalty . . . immediately stopping play to allow marking off the infraction.

Later, when I re-configured my match-up system for solo play, I kept those penalties in there.  And it really does help because you’re not running a full play just to find out that one of these dead-ball fouls occurred.

Now, if you don’t use my match-up system (first of all – why not??!!!??), but would still like to have these dead-ball penalties come up BEFORE you roll for the result of the play, you can simulate what I’ve done on the match-up cards by using a regular old set of 52 playing cards.  Simply shuffle the playing cards before the game and before each play from scrimmage (including punts and place kicks), draw the top card of the deck.  If it is an ACE, then play stops because there is a dead ball foul.  A Black Ace – Clubs (♣) or Spades (♠) – would be a False Start penalty.  An Ace of Hearts (♥) results in an Encroachment or Neutral Zone Violation, and an Ace of Diamonds (♦) would be a Delay-of-Game.  Any other card drawn is ignored and you move on with the play.  This will add almost no time to the game, and you won’t have to go through the silly completing of a play, just to find out the play should have been whistled dead!  And, based on the probability of drawing a single card from a deck of 52, the distribution of these fouls should be very close to actual NFL penalty stats.

Finally, when a “Delay” penalty comes up, I always give the offensive team the option of using a time-out to nullify the penalty.  Don’t we see that all the time in an actual NFL game?

Anyway, this is just my take on penalties . . . and I would love to hear your feedback or other ideas regarding how you handle penalties if you care to share!!

Ray Dunlap

4 thoughts on “Football Innovation – Penalties

  1. Joe Moffa asks the following question: “Hi Ray, question on pass plays. So many penalty results are complete passes. I wonder if the game company uses this in their calculation of QBs’ cards. If not for those plays being complete, would his pass percentage be too low? So if your result is 10TH, when you re-roll for the QB to get a result, does it need to be a completion or can it be ANY result?”

    Joe – I have studied the boards pretty extensively and find that the penalty, and rare play numbers really don’t impact completion percentage in a way that would make a tangible difference – so I use whatever the result of the re-roll is. The one thing you need to be wary of, however, are penalties that couldn’t happen! For instance, if you re-rolled the dice and it resulted in an incompletion, and the penalty was a “Facemask” infraction – I just treat that as an Unnecessary Roughness 15-yard penalty, because a Facemask foul isn’t likely to occur on an incomplete pass! So, we still end up with the same penalty yardage being marked off.

    But, once again to answer you initial question, in my experience, I have found no statistical issues with ignoring the play result on penalties on the game boards and re-rolling for a new result.

  2. Ray, I like this idea, I had been kicking around something similar. I already limit guys to their long gain on the TD(TE) type penalties. I like the added variety to penalty results that this would bring.

  3. Ray, for the TD(TE) penalty, you could also just use the result at 66 on the player’s card. I’m sure Bart Starr didn’t have a 1 there!


  4. Joe asks another question: “I have another question- would you consider something similar for F results? Instead of using the yardage result on a fumble, re-roll for distance based on the RB or QB card? Some of the gains on re-rolls for fumbles outdo the same roll off a player’s card…”

    Joe – you beat me to a future post on this topic!! That’s exactly what I do for fumbles!!

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