Should There Be Penalties For Sitting Starters?

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When you buy a ticket do you want to watch this guy play, or Peyton Manning?

When you buy a ticket do you want to watch this guy play, or Peyton Manning?

Although the Indianapolis Colts are at the center of this discussion after they pulled the plug early against the New York Jets on Sunday, the Green Bay Packers very much factor into the conversation because, as we’ve discussed, Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals could very well be meaningless for the Pack.

It brings up the question, should the NFL penalize teams who rest their starters or pull them early in games that are meaningless to that team?

Let me frame the discussion with Colts’ coach Jim Caldwell’s actions first. On Sunday, Caldwell pulled Peyton Manning and several other starters with 5:36 left in the third quarter. The Colts would go up 15-10 shortly thereafter.

The game was meaningless for the Colts, other than the fact that they were undefeated and chasing history. Caldwell’s rationale was that he’d rather have healthy, rested players for a Super Bowl run than a perfect season. Still, a lot of people were none too happy.

By sending in backups, notably quarterback Curtis Painter, the Colts essentially conceded the game in the third quarter. The Jets would reel off 17 unanswered points for a 29-15 victory. Painter would finish with 44 yards, one interception and one fumble in a game that Manning probably could have won blindfolded. In the process, the victory not only kept the Jets in the crowded AFC wild card chase, but it gave them control of their own destiny. Instead of essentially being eliminated at 7-8, the Jets now need only to beat the Cincinnati Bengals, who are also considering resting their starters, for a playoff spot.

First on the list of people who should be irate about Caldwell’s decision are the other teams competing for an AFC wild card spot – the Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, and to a lesser extent, the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars, the last two of which failed to take care of their own business on Sunday and fell to 7-8.

I know resting players happens to some extent every year, but the Colts essentially conceded what was a playoff game for the Jets. While the game may not have mattered to the Colts, it most assuredly mattered to a good portion of the AFC, and for that reason the NFL has to be somewhat embarrassed. I don’t think it would be an overstatement to say the AFC playoffs are tainted if the Jets make it. On top of that, we’ll probably have to listen to Rex Ryan’s idiotic drivel for another week.

Second on the list of people who should be angry are the fans. Colts fans were potentially cheated out of a piece of history when Caldwell decided he couldn’t care less about the undefeated season, but that’s only a small part of the equation.

The real losers were the people who bought tickets (not to mention beer, food, souvenirs, etc.) at the RCA Dome on Sunday. Do you think those people paid to see Curtis Painter and Hank Baskett? No. They paid to see Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne make a run at history. And hell, even if that run were a failure those fans still paid to see Manning and Wayne play more than two quarters of football.

I’m going to Phoenix for Sunday’s Packers game. The Packers may have nothing to play for, but you know what I want to see? I want to see Aaron Rodgers throwing ropes to Donald Driver, and Charles Woodson hitting motherfuckers in the face as long as the game is still contested. I’m not paying to see the likes of Matt Flynn and Josh Bell strut their stuff. And I expect the same from the opposition – Kurt Warner better be throwing to Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, or I’m throwing my beer on the field (and probably getting ejected).

If one team gains what is likely an insurmountable lead, then go ahead and rest the starters for the playoffs, but no one should concede a win the way the Colts did. It not only cheapens the game, and in this case, the playoffs, but it’s akin to robbing the fans, which brings me to the question: should the NFL institute a penalty for teams who concede games such as the Colts did?

First, let me say this isn’t my idea, but I’m strongly behind it. It came from the folks at With Leather, who proposed that the NFL fine the Colts for, as they say, throwing a game with playoff implications.

It doesn’t matter why Colts coach Jim Caldwell threw that game away; the fact of the matter is that he did it. They knowingly tanked a regular season NFL game. It doesn’t matter why they did it, or that they stood to gain little from winning. The league should investigate the organization, and then fine them. And then move them back to Baltimore.

A fine is probably the way to go. After all, I don’t how you’d really penalize them otherwise – maybe they open their first playoff game with a 15-yard penalty, or maybe something more extreme, like they have forfeit one of the games they already won. I bet the latter would alter the thought process.

But seriously, a fine sounds about right. Fine the organization and the coach. Fine them a lot. After all, teams get fined for shit like tampering, which we all know goes on anyway. Coaches and players get fined for criticizing the officiating, even though we all know it genuinely sucks from time to time. Why not levy a fine for a team that takes a dive?

You know, unless the NFL doesn’t give a shit about the fans or the integrity of the game.

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About The Author

Monty McMahon is one of the founders of Total Packers. He is probably the most famous graduate of UW-Oshkosh next to Jim Gantner.

10 Comments on "Should There Be Penalties For Sitting Starters?"

  1. Robert Narasky

    I agree. I will be driving from Los Angeles for the game and I wanna see Rodgers, Driver, Jennings, Woodson, Bigby, and the bunnch, not the benchwarmers. And I hope Mccarthy doesn’t bitch out like I think he will. Anyway keep up the good work guys, I love your insight

  2. BrianD

    If you really want to punish the Colts organization, take away their second round pick. That way all the AFC teams who have directly been affected by the Colts throwing the game get their picks bumped up ahead of the Colts.

  3. Matt

    I have to disagree a little here. The problem you face is taking control away from coaches and teams to make sovereign decisions about personnel. What else does that open the door for? Should Jay Cutler be fined for running out the clock at the end of the 4th quarter amidst boos against the Vikings, even though they later won in OT?

    I will concede that it’s a problem if it cheapens the individual game for the spectators in general. But the Colts fans? Let’s be honest here: though the odds are slim, if Caldwell had left Manning in, and he had been injured, the world would be calling him the biggest idiot in the NFL right now. ESPN would be raining fire on the coaching staff, and he’d be chastised for his “greediness” in going for a perfect season, ESPECIALLY by Colts fans.

    As far as the other teams in the AFC go, you said it yourself–they didn’t take care of their own business. If another team dropping a game affects your playoff shots, maybe you don’t really deserve the spot in the first place. What’s that Ravens, you’re one game away? Maybe you shouldn’t have dropped a 3 point game to the Bengals, and a two point game to the Vikings in consecutive weeks. Actually, maybe you shouldn’t have lost every game you played against a formidable team this year (save for the Chargers). All is fair. If you want to make the playoffs, you gotta win.

    I think if you wanted to implement a rule like this, it would be a matter of timing. If a team if pulling starters any earlier than week 14, then you have a problem. But after that, you’re protecting for the playoffs. Would you rather see Curtis Painter dickin’ the dog in a meaningless regular season game, or watch him choke out an otherwise strong team in a playoff game?

    Just my 2 cents.

  4. Steffen

    I agree with Matt, teams have to be allowed to run things the way they see fit. That said, I think the notion of sitting starters is preposterous and foolhardy. Before last week the Colts were unstoppable. Now, all of their momentum is gone, their staff is backpedalling and they look vulnerable. So maybe there already is a penalty for sitting starters… one and done?

  5. Jeremy

    It’s common to hear Baseball managers talking about putting on a performance that is fair to the other teams at the end of the season when they are out of the pennant race. If putting in a cheese lineup is definitely not cool in a sport with 165 games, it has to be 10 times lamer in a sport with only 16 games.

    I’ll be pulling for an early exit for the Colts this season. Their antics are not in the spirit of fair play. And, I’ve heard enough of Bill Pollin’s BS rationalizations.

  6. Adam

    There are really only two scenarios in which I would have legitimate reasoning to be upset:

    1) I’m a fan in the stadium who paid to see my team play.

    2) I’m a member of the Ravens, Texans, Steelers, Dolphins, or Jaguars still fighting for one of the wild card spots that the Jets still remain in control of. Assuming a full strength Indy squad beats the Jets that Sunday, all of a sudden that spot opens up.

    But nonetheless, I dont care because I’m neither of those, and the Packers dont play in the AFC.

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