NEW YORK -- The NFL, under criticism for legislating against excessive crowd noise, Friday announced a softening of the rule to take effect in time for Sunday's opening weekend.
Under the modification, handed down by Commissioner Pete Rozelle, the referee can determine a crowd has quieted sufficiently to run a play and warn the quarterback to begin.
If the quarterback fails to do so, the offense will be assessed a delay-of-game penalty.
The rule originally stated that if crowd noise does not allow a quarterback to call signals, the crowd will be warned, then the home team will lose a timeout for each successive infraction. If all three of a team's timeouts are used, a five-yard penalty will be assessed. It made no reference as to who should determine an acceptable level of crowd noise.
The rule was enforced four times during the preseason, including a game between New Orleans and Cincinnati in which the Saints lost all three timeouts in the first half and were accessed a penalty before the crowd quieted down.
The modification also instructs officials to 'use discretion before forfeiting timeouts of the home team and special restraint before calling any delay-of-game fouls, offense or defense.'
The modification also states that under no circumstances will the referee instruct a quarterback to move from the shotgun position to under the center.
The original rule was approved by club owners 21-7 during the March NFL meetings. NFL bylaws state that a unanimous vote is required to revoke a rule passed in the same calendar year, but it may be reversed by a three-quarters vote if determined by the commissioner to be of 'emergency' status.