NFL League Meeting 2013: Competition Committee Explains New Rule Changes

Sean Gardner

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, senior members of officiating and members of the NFL Competition Committee held a press conference today at the league's annual meeting in Phoenix to discuss new rule changes, potential scheduling changes and the Pro Bowl.

2013 ANNUAL LEAGUE MEETING PRESS CONFERENCE

THE BILTMORE, PHOENIX, ARIZ.

March 20, 2013

NFL COMMISSIONER ROGER GOODELL

NFL VICE PRESIDENT OF OFFICIATING DEAN BLANDINO

NFL SENIOR DIRECTOR OF OFFICIATING ALBERTO RIVERON

ATLANTA FALCONS PRESIDENT & CEO & COMPETITION COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN RICH MC KAY

ST. LOUIS RAMS HEAD COACH & COMPETITION COMMITTEE MEMBER JEFF FISHER

Opening statement:

Goodell: We finished our session this morning a little bit in advance. We only had Competition Committee matters this morning. (Rams head coach and Competition Committee member) Jeff Fisher is here to go through some of the rule changes that we passed.

As you know, this meeting is primarily about evaluating our rules both from a safety standpoint and what we think we can do to improve and make the game better. We made some very significant progress on both of those fronts, which Jeff and (Falcons president & CEO and Competition Committee chairman) Rich McKay will be here to discuss shortly.

We also had a productive session as it relates to other matters, particularly stadium related. We have some stadium projects that are moving along - Minnesota and Buffalo - that are all very positive.

As you all know, Monday we spent a fair amount of time with a group of fans who demonstrated their passion and gave us quite a bit of feedback. It was a great session for us.

We had a good opportunity over the last few days to get everybody on the same page of what are our priorities, what are our challenges and what are our strategies going forward. The meetings were extremely successful and positive.

On the rules changes:

Fisher: With respect to the playing rule proposals that we obviously discussed at length this week, all of them passed, one in particular, which I will comment on here at the end.

Playing Rule Proposal No. 1 was the one that involves instant replay - the change where it is no longer going to be a penalty per se if a coach makes a mistake and challenges a play that is not reviewable. That passed.

Playing Rule Proposal No. 2 was the first player-safety related proposal. It involves the PAT and the field-goal rush teams. We talked at length about the difficulty that we are having, the injuries that were taking place and the number of blocks versus the number of successful kicks. Basically, what we have done is we have put restrictions on the rush team's alignments - no more than six players to one side of the line of scrimmage - and we have taken away the ability for them to block low from the rush team's standpoint. There are two fouls involved. One is a five-yard penalty for illegal formation. If we have a push or a violation that falls under the category of unnecessary roughness, it will be a 15-yard penalty and a previous-spot foul.

Playing Rule Proposal No. 3 was related to the tuck rule. It modifies the tuck rule so that when a passer begins to bring a ball back to his body in attempting to begin the tuck and he loses that ball, whether on the way back to his body or after completing the tuck, it will now be ruled a fumble. Incidentally, we had that rule pass and we had two teams that abstained: New England and the Washington Redskins' (general manager) Bruce Allen abstained, in favor of the Raiders, I am sure.

Playing Rule Proposal No. 4 is just a jersey cleanup in the rule book. We are now going to permit teams to allow their fullbacks, H-backs, F-backs and tight ends to wear jerseys in the 40 numbers, 40-49.

Playing Rule Proposal No. 5 relates to the peel-back block. That also was approved. That is the Cushing hit from this past year. As we talked at length this week, it was illegal but we had still permitted offensive players blocking back toward their own end line to block low; that is no longer permissible and will be a penalty.

Playing Rule Proposal No. 6 is obviously the proposal where we place restrictions on ball carriers and defensive players initiating forcible contact with the crown of their helmet.

McKay: Playing Rule Proposal No. 6, as Jeff said, is just as he described it. There are two elements to it. Both players have to clearly be out of the tackle box. It applies to a runner or a tackler. It applies when that runner or tackler ducks his head and delivers a forcible blow with the top or crown of his helmet. I thought the process with respect to it - Jeff and the commissioner can comment on it - was outstanding. We have been going through the process with respect to this rule for a number of years. We have had discussions with both the NFLPA and the players; we have had the coaches' subcommittee; and we have had (Pro Football hall of Fame) Coach (John) Madden's player safety advisory committee. We have had a lot of people kind of talk to us about this rule, how we should write it and how it should be rolled out into our game. That is where we ended up today.

Yesterday was a very productive day because what we heard from the coaches was everybody was on board in respect to the player safety aspect of it, some were nervous about how it was going to get coached up right at the start and some were worried about the officiating side of it. Those are all of the concerns that we have heard for a long time as we talked about it. None of them were new revelations, but they were ones that we needed to work through with them and let them understand our perspective on it. It was a very productive discussion. It was one that led to a lot of good talks by owners and by coaches with respect to the game and respect for the game, the players that play it and the fact that this is a pretty major change but one that they think can quickly be adapted to by the players.

On the vote results on Playing Rule Proposal No. 6:

McKay: 31-1.

On if the Cincinnati Bengals opposed:

McKay: Yes.

On no penalty occurring if a challenge flag is thrown when a play is not reviewable:

Fisher: It would be a penalty if the coach didn't have timeouts remaining or the coach for some reason threw the flag inside of two minutes, it would be a 15-yard penalty. We would still go ahead and review the play unlike what happened last year in the Detroit game.

On defining the crown of the helmet:

Fisher: We have four components to the helmet: the facemask; the side; the hairline, which is where the facemask connects to the forehead; and the crown is clearly the top of the helmet. That is what we are referring to.

McKay: One of the things when we ended today that we are going to do and we talked about with the coaches is we are going to quickly get out another tape to the coaches from Dean Blandino and his people. We will show the exact plays that are legal - a lot of plays that are legal - and then the plays that will be illegal. We will also give them a clear explanation of how it is going to be taught to the on-field officials so they will understand the mechanics of the call and how the official would make the call.

On rules promoting player safety and what can be done in the future:

McKay: I have been on the committee a long time. My first year on the committee was 1994. That was the year that we put in the defenseless player rule, if you will. They were in the [rule] book. We expanded them. I have always thought that player safety has been at the forefront of our discussion for a long, long time. The game has gotten safer over time. Where we have really focused is on the big hits, the open field hits and hits where players truly can't defend themselves. In this step that we are taking we are trying to protect the player from himself with respect to this rule. That is probably another step.

When you watch the tape and when you look at the data, I do believe the game from a safety standpoint is in a good place. It doesn't mean we can't do more and doesn't mean we shouldn't do more in the future, but right now, we feel pretty comfortable where the game is.

Fisher: I also add the change we made as it relates to the kickoff has had a significant impact in reducing the number of injuries on the field from two years ago.

From a coaching standpoint when a rule goes in or when a rule is modified, we take it, we run with it and you actually see habits changing on the field. In the video, which we refer to as the data, you can see players' conduct on the field between the snap and the whistle changes as it relates to the type of things that we are going to get out.

McKay: We view ourselves as a league that has to be a leader in this area. Our hope is always that our rule changes can impact those levels below us: high school, youth football, college or whatever it might be. We have had some really good exchanges with the NCAA over the last four or five years on rules and how they are going about it. We feel pretty good about that.

I was at a high school game a number of years ago and I remember some woman - my wife was right next to me - stood up and screamed, ‘That is a horse collar.' They called it a horse collar. I was like, ‘That is amazing that there is a horse collar in high school football.' I really didn't think that. When we make rule changes, we realize we are trying to push it all the way down and impact the game.

On how many penalties would have occurred in 2012 if Playing Rule Proposal No. 6 existed:

McKay: What we did is we challenged the NFL office guys to take a look, along with the officiating department, of every single play this year of Week 10 and Week 16 - every single play. We came up with that there would have been five in one week and six in the other week. In our mind, that is too many. Our hope is that clearly those are not 11 fouls but hopefully 11 plays that do not occur that way.

On officiating Playing Rule Proposal No. 6:

Blandino: We have discussed it. We don't feel this is any more difficult than the other player safety rules that we have - hits on defenseless receivers. The way we are going to teach it is we are looking for the player that squares up the opponent, lowers the head and delivers a blow with the very top crown of the helmet. The official will be looking at those three things to make that determination. We understand that it happens quickly, but there is an educational process that takes place, and it involves a lot of tape. We are going to look at a lot of legal plays so that the officials understand what we don't want called.

I will let (NFL senior director of officiating) Al(berto Riveron) talk a little bit about how it will be officiated, as well.

Riveron: One of the things we look at when we have a play like that is we have three sets of eyes looking at it. We have three different angles: one from the rear, one from the front and hopefully, at least one from the side. As to what Rich and Dean just said, we are going to show them plenty more of the legal hits than of the ones that we think could be fouls. We are going to encourage our officials when this foul is thrown on the field to have a conference to make sure we have seen what we actually saw. We are also going to encourage our officials to slow down when they have this type of play and make sure they have, like Dean said, the components of the foul: squaring up, the head down and contact with the crown of the helmet.

On if runners or tacklers can still initiate contact with the face mask or hairline:

Fisher: Yes, there is no rule that prohibits a runner from using his facemask nor the hairline. What we are talking about is keeping the head up. When you are making contact with the hairline, your head is basically up. We have said it numerous times about bringing the shoulder back into this. We are not going to not allow a runner to protect himself, to protect the football or to drop his head in an effort to protect himself against a tackler. It is about delivering a blow.

Over the last day or so, we have received a lot of opinions from former running backs, some in favor of this and some opposed to this, with respect to all of them. Prior to coming in here, I got a phone call from (Former Titans running back and Fisher's former player) Eddie George. Eddie George said, ‘What is going on?' He took the position that this is going to be a difficult thing to enforce and a difficult way to play this game. After a 15-minute conversation, he changed his mind and said, ‘That makes sense. I would be in favor of that.'

Basically, what our job and our task ahead now is, is to inform our players and inform the officials and communicate why and the reasons behind this change.

On how many of the 11 potential crown of the helmet penalties in Week 10 and 16 of 2012 were on offensive and defensive players, respectively:

Blandino: It was almost half and half. There was a mix of both running backs and defensive players.

The other point I want to make about the enforcement is I think there has been some confusion as to the enforcement of this foul. This will not be a previous-spot enforcement. If we have a 40-yard run downfield and we penalize the running back, we do not go all the way back to the previous spot; it is a spot foul. From the end of the run, we would go 15 yards from there. If a first down was gained, it would remain a first down. We are not going all the way back to the previous spot.

On enforcing the defensive penalty for an illegal hit with the crown of the helmet:

Blandino: For the defense, as well, it would be from either the end of the run or the spot of the foul, whichever is better for the offense.

On the fine for an illegal hit with the crown of the helmet:

Blandino: There would be a fine schedule. This would be in line with the hits on defenseless receivers and defenseless players. There is a fine schedule, and it would be the same as those types of hits and would escalate as we get into the repeat offenders and there could be suspensions.

Can a coach challenge the penalty for an illegal hit with the crown of the helmet:

Blandino: No, this is not reviewable. This is a judgment call by the officials that is not a reviewable play situation.

On if there was a repeat offender based on the review Week 10 and Week 16 film:

Blandino: No, we did not find repeat offenders in those two weeks. We looked at two weeks. We are going to reach out to the coaches next week to get their input and we are going to look at several more weeks of video and come up with plays that are both not legal and legal.

On the approval percentage for Competition Committee Playing Rule Proposals:

McKay: I don't know. We have lost some votes. I don't remember a player safety proposal that we made that we didn't in some way pass.

The one thing about proposals is people look at the committee as though it is eight members. It is really not. It is the entire league. We go through a survey process where we survey every single team. We get 60 or 70 responses, meaning we get more than one per team, with all of the ideas, all of the vetting on, ‘Hey, if we were to propose this.' We proposed this in the survey and got very good feedback and positive feedback from it.

We use all of that; we meet with the NFLPA; we have the coaches subcommittee, which is four more coaches on Coach Madden's committee; and we have the Player Safety Advisory Committee that is Coach Madden's, also. This is process that involves a lot so we don't look at it as a proposal of eight members.

On if an offensive player illegally uses the crown of the helmet on a scoring play:

Blandino: If he scores and we have the foul, it would be a spot foul. The touchdown would not count and we would go from the spot of the foul. It would be just like a live-ball foul for holding and then there is a touchdown, the same result. [If it is on the defense, it would be a] touchdown and it would be enforced on the kickoff.

On if illegal use of the crown of the helmet occurs in the end zone:

Blandino: The score would count and it would be [enforced] on the kickoff.

On how illegal use of the crown of the helmet differs from spearing:

McKay: There was discussion of that. Spearing is a term of ours. Spearing is really the way we have interpreted it over the years and enforce it is really when a player is on the ground and another player hits him with the crown of the helmet coming into that player on the ground. We call that ‘spearing' and penalize it.

There are other parts of the rule book that we could have used with respect to the top part of the helmet, whether it is ram, butt or spear, but we wanted to have a very specific rule that we could vet with the coaches and make sure the players understood how it would be enforced. That is why we proposed this language as opposed to going back in the rule book and using some other part of the rule book, which is really what we did in 1994 with the defenseless player rules. We put those ‘notes' or clarifications in and we had no vote because we just felt like we needed to do that and that was a change. In this one, we wanted to make sure we had an open process, went through it and there was a good discussion about it.

On if the committee could determine injuries on the 11 illegal use of the crown of the helmet occurrences in Weeks 10 and 16:

Blandino: There weren't any obvious injuries that occurred in those plays, but then again, you just don't know the long-term effects.

More on the Competition Committee process:

Goodell: One other thing to make a point of, which was not emphasized along with this process, several of these proposals were proposed actually by the players when we met with them at the combine. In particular the special teams with the extra points and field goals, a number of players were very concerned about the safety of that. That was clearly a big point for them. The peel back block was brought up by Patrick Kerney last year through the John Madden, Ronnie Lott player advisory committee. I would say that a lot of the focus we had this year was actually generated by proposals from the players.

On any discussions about revisions to Sun Life Stadium in Miami impacting their Super Bowl bid:

Goodell: We had several stadium committee updates. We also had separately an update on the Super Bowl bidding that will occur in May. I would say, as it relates specifically to Miami, we updated them on plans and the hopes of the renovations which we think are very positive. Steve Ross and his team have done a tremendous amount of work on what they think are the priorities and what will work. I think the ownership believes that it is important for their stadium long-term and would be beneficial. I also think it will be a factor, in their minds, with respect to the voting for the Super Bowl. They clearly believe that will lead to a better stadium, which will be a better Super Bowl event. I think we've made the point several times that competition for Super Bowls has elevated in large part due to stadiums. Miami is a great city for the Super Bowl and we want to be back there, but they're seeing increasing competition.

On the various options for the Pro Bowl and where it stands:

Goodell: We spoke yesterday about the Pro Bowl and about where we were. It included a report on player participation, ratings, attendance, the financials of the game and what we thought we could do. Again, I put a particular emphasis here on players - both individually to me and also with our staff - have really come up with very creative ideas. I think you may have some indications of some of those. One was the idea of the players being selected as they have been in the past, but the teams would be decided by a draft that could be done with a captain. To use an example from this past year: we talked about Peyton Manning picks one team and Eli Manning picks the other. We think some of that is going to create greater interest. I made the point earlier that they clearly made a very positive effort in the way they played the game this year. We are planning and we will play a game in Hawaii next year.

On what he likes about Houston being a finalist for Super Bowl LI and if the Astrodome affects them being a finalist:

Goodell: That was discussed when I was down there last fall. Those are decisions that have to be made by the communities. It sounds like a very positive change because they'll be able to use the space that the Astrodome sits on in a very positive way; whether it's more parking or whether we can have other events there in that space. It's not just the stadium itself. It's the area surrounding it that is valuable. I think that could be a very positive change in their Super Bowl bid.

On Minnesota being interested in a Super Bowl with their new stadium being built and what he is looking for as the stadium evolves:

Goodell: We had a very good update and as you know, approved the G-4 for Minnesota at this meeting. Our focus Super Bowl-related is obviously the two awards that we are going to make in May. We had a little bit of a discussion on how we are going to proceed beyond that, but not specific to any sites. I guess that I would just reinforce the point again that the stadium is a big component of that. It's important for us to be able to play the game on the best possible stage and the stadiums are getting better and better and more and more important.

On if there has been a Los Angeles update at these meetings and if any meetings are planned with Philip Anschutz of AEG:

Goodell: Several points: one, I think you asked if there was an update. There was an update in the context of our stadium update. We did bring them up to speed with what has happened in Los Angeles. The second, I do think it's a positive that Phil Anschutz has not only reengaged, but also said that he would like to see a stadium get built at that site. The third point, we have not spoken to them, but I look forward to having those discussions.

On what impressed the NFL about the first Super Bowl in Glendale that warranted another Super Bowl:

Goodell: I think a number of things: first, the stadium; second, the community. You could see the excitement that was generated by having a Super Bowl here. How much people really thought it benefitted this community and made us all feel welcomed and special. The hospitality is a big part of it because we invite our fans in for this game. It was a great success when we were here.

On an update on the Ravens and Orioles schedule conflict for the opening game and if there has been any progress with his discussions with Bud Selig:

Goodell: I have not talked to Bud since I've been here, but I do know that discussions are ongoing. People are working toward trying to find a solution that will work for everybody. We recognize that this wasn't something that baseball or the Orioles asked for. They've been very cooperative in trying to work out a solution. We're both trying to compromise to say, ‘How can we do this so the fans of Baltimore can have a really special day with an Orioles game in the afternoon and a Ravens celebration at night for their Super Bowl championship.' I'm hopeful that that will happen.

On if the possibilities of expanding the playoffs are linked to reducing the preseason:

Goodell: That's a good question. I think it could be. We continue to look at the preseason and the overall structure of the season. We would like to find the best solution for the preseason and there are a number of alternatives that we are looking at. I could see that. I wouldn't consider them linked and that they have to be locked together, but I could see the opportunity for us to address both of those issues at once.

On the future of the Pro Bowl:

Goodell: The Pro Bowl next year will be before the Super Bowl. I don't know the exact date [but the Sunday before the Super Bowl]. The answer going forward will be, again, if some of these changes are effective, positive and lead to a better event, we will find a way to make this game better and hopefully more popular with our fans. Ultimately, that's what we are looking for. I have also spoken with several players that have participated in this game this past year, [asking them] what we can do to make it better for them and how can we improve the experience a little bit. We want to do that. We have to find ways to do some of those things.

On the location of the Pro Bowl:

Goodell: We are open-minded about that. Our agreement with Hawaii is just for the coming year, but I would expect that we will continue to be in Hawaii on some kind of rotational basis.

On the regular season schedule and expansion of the playoffs:

Goodell: I think we will have further discussions about it. I wouldn't want to point to it saying we will be making decisions by the spring of 2014. I feel strongly that we have to do the work, we have to do the analysis until we've gotten to a point where we have the right input, and frankly, we've talked to all of our partners. That includes players, the networks and, obviously, the 32 teams. There is a lot of work to be done, so I would not tie myself to that time frame. I think the discussions will continue and maybe be a little bit more intensive by then.

On if he has asked DeMaurice Smith for a copy of the NFLPA survey:

Goodell: I did. I had lunch with De a little bit over a month ago in Washington, D.C. He raised the survey and we discussed it. I said, well, it would be helpful to be able to look at it, for us to learn from it. We ought to be able to evaluate it. In fact, I also reminded him that it's in our collective bargaining agreement that we do that type of a study together. That's the intent here: what can we learn, what can we improve, how can we work together to find better ways of doing things. We have not seen the study. I have not received it.

On Rooney Rule discussions:

Goodell: We spent quite a bit of time yesterday morning on that. Not just the Rooney Rule but also our overall efforts to promote the best talent in the NFL, in all positions. One of the major focuses we had was we are going to reinstate the symposium program that we've had in the past. It was primarily focused on coaches in the past, but we are likely to have some potential GM candidates also attend with the coaches. This will be a learning experience. This will be an opportunity for us to help give them greater tools to be able to advance their careers. We also want to be able to give them greater feedback on the interview process for those that may have interviewed. There was some discussion about the Rooney Rule. We did talk a little bit about giving more flexibility to teams when they asked for permission to interview candidates. It's good practice for you [the teams] to allow your employees to seek better opportunities and I'm hopeful the teams will do that more voluntarily. I think there are some very positive things going on and we're anxious to get into some of those programs, which will happen in early May.

On enhancing the in-game experience:

Goodell: The primary responsibility is going to go to the teams. They are focused on this and I think we are all feeling the pressure to add value, to create a better experience for our fans in the stadium. Starting with Sunday night, where we had one of our broadcast partners here, Les Moonves, we talked about that the experience at home is outstanding, and it will continue to get better because of technology. Les made the point: the reality is we want people watching on television saying, ‘I wish I was there. I want to be in that stadium.' We're fortunate. We are at 98 percent capacity on a league-wide basis, which is very positive. We have to find ways not only to bring fans into stadium, but make it a better experience for them. That's technology, security, making sure we take care of parking, concessions and the other things fans expect. We did spend a lot of time on this. We heard directly from some of those fans that were here this week about the things that were important to them, and what we have to do. The very subtle things as an example: instead of season ticket holders, they are season ticket members. We have to start finding ways in which we can engage with those fans on a year-round basis, and to demonstrate how important they really are to the game and our teams. I think you will see some very dramatic improvements. Will we have some league-wide efforts that go across all stadiums? Yes, I do see that.

On why cities should provide public funding to help offset the expense of private stadiums:

Goodell: I have been involved with this throughout most of my career and getting stadiums built. These are decisions you have to make on a market-by-market basis. When they are done in a very thoughtful and open way, they are good for the community and also good for the team. That is the outcome we want. This is a partnership. When these are done right, thoughtful investments in stadiums from a public sector and also from the private sector can lead to real benefits long term. You have seen some of the economic impacts. They vary from market to market, but they can have dramatic impacts from a financial standpoint. Also, they can have a huge impact on a community in the way that they think about themselves and the types of events they bring into their community. What they bring to a national stage when they have either an NFL team or a Super Bowl event or any other kind of large event, these are the types of things that go beyond financial impact. They really have huge impacts on communities. We have demonstrated that we can have that impact when they are done intelligently.

On whether there was discussion to implement a rule that prohibits coaching hires until after the Super Bowl so that every coach is on a level playing field:

Goodell: We had quite a bit of discussion about that; we did not see how that was really going to work. There were a number of issues with it. We think the smarter approach here is to have the Rooney Rule in place, which we think has been incredibly effective. We were disappointed in the results this year. We think that some of the changes we are making to make sure we get the right candidates better training, and we really are doing a better job of getting them in front of the people who are making the decisions. That is going to be the best way to pay dividends.

On whether thigh and knee pads are mandatory pieces of equipment going forward:

Goodell: Yes, we passed that. We have had discussions with the union going back four and five years on this issue. It was passed at the May meeting last year for implementation this year. We have done some additional testing of those pads with some of our partners. I think the University of Virginia was the one who implemented the testing. They can have a very positive impact on the safety of our players. We are going forward with that.

On whether it makes more sense for the Rams to build a new stadium rather than investing a significant amount of money in repairs to their current stadium:

Goodell: I have not been that close to it to weigh in from my position. Those are decisions that I think the community will have to make with the Rams. There are a lot of things that have to be balanced in there as far as convention facilities, the stadium itself and the financial impact of that. I do not know where they are in that process so it would not be fair for me to take a position from here.

On whether there was a discussion to include the hiring of offensive and defensive coordinators in the Rooney Rule:

Goodell: We are going to continue to talk about that. We have talked about that a lot with the Fritz Pollard Alliance. We have talked a lot about it with our internal committee. We did raise it with the membership. One of the clubs made the point about [needing] to do more about the flexibility for our people to interview. When there is an opening, it is good practice to allow your best people to interview and have that opportunity to get a new job. That will attract even better people. That is what the whole effort here is about: to get the best people the best opportunities. That's what everyone is asking for and looking for. We are making progress on that and hopefully, some of the changes we are making will even be more beneficial.

On his reaction to many of the negative comments from players about the rule changes:

Goodell: The number one thing is these decisions are not made in isolation. They are made with a lot of input from almost every one of the entities you just discussed: current players, former players, current coaches, former coaches, general managers and fans. You have to balance all of those issues. They spend a lot of time going through this and they come back with recommendations of techniques that they think can improve the game, but more importantly improve safety. We have demonstrated that the game is safer and the game is better. We can do both of those. That is what we are proud of. We are going to continue to do that intelligently.

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