NFL Nation: 2011 Commish for a day

A chops-busting blog network colleague, upon reading my "Commish for a day" piece lamenting 10 a.m. PT kickoffs for West Coast teams, expressed mock concern for "all the NFC West wusses who don't get enough of a pregame beauty nap the night before early East Coast games."

My reply: Let's have a staff meeting to discuss the matter one of these nights at, say, 10 p.m. PT.

I've gone through all our suggestions and liked a few in particular:
  • Create a minor league: Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. envisions a minor-league system much like the one in place for baseball. Williamson: "It would be a fantastic place to cultivate young talent -- especially at quarterback. Players would get valuable game experience. It would be a breeding ground for young coaches and scouts as well. Practice squads and game-day inactives would be a thing of the past, and the major league team could send players up and down as it wished." I like the idea, but this league would have to play its games during the NFL regular season, making it potentially tougher to draw crowds. Perhaps the minor-league teams could operate outside their parent team's immediate markets. The comments section of Williamson's item included solid feedback, including jimmycyo's suggestion to have the minor-league season run 8-10 games and end about two-thirds of the way through the NFL regular season. The minor-league teams would run the same schemes. NFL rosters would expand late in the season, allowing select minor-league prospects to assimilate.
  • Abolish the Pro Bowl: Paul Kuharsky is right on when he says there's no sense in playing the game itself. There would still be Pro Bowl honors for players. Kuharsky: "Guys who make the team still get pineapples with the year on them in their media guide bios. They still get a week in Hawaii -- the week AFTER the Super Bowl. Rather than practices, they participate in clinics and charity events. Then, rather than the game, there is a live skills competition Sunday afternoon. Quarterback target practice. A skill position race to establish the league’s fastest man. A linemen lift to find the strongest." The dynamics that make football compelling simply aren't there during all-star games. Kuharsky is on the right track.
  • Concussion prevention: Kevin Seifert would push for uniform safety standards on the helmets players wear, building upon the research Gregg Easterbrook cited at Virginia Tech. Seifert: "There should be no mystery, in public or private, about the latest and best innovations for preventing concussions. To me, head injuries are the biggest long-term threat to professional football. As we learn more about their causes and symptoms, and observe the long-term effects, I wonder if prospective players won't reach a tipping point on tolerable risk and if fans will begin disassociating with the game as a result." Easterbrook nailed it when he wrote, "The belief that trying to act regarding helmet safety would only create liability for the NFL seems deeply seated in the league's thinking." It's time to move past that thinking.

Check out all the commish-for-a-day pieces here.

What changes would you enact as NFL commissioner?
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Our divisional bloggers discuss one thing they'd change as commissioner for a day:

One of the changes Roger Goodell has made in his five years as commissioner that I don’t agree with is altering the Pro Bowl format.

In the past couple of years, the Pro Bowl has been played in the week before the Super Bowl, and Hawaii is no longer the permanent home. In the past, the Pro Bowl was played the week after the Super Bowl. I think it worked well. I covered the Pro Bowl several times, and it was always a fun event for players and fans.

Goodell wanted to switch the site around, so he moved it to Miami (the site of the Super Bowl) in 2010 before returning it to Hawaii in 2011. The television ratings in the two years since the change have been good, and I don’t see Goodell ever going back to the former format.

That’s too bad. Having the NFL season end the week after the Super Bowl in Hawaii was a fun conclusion.

Going to Hawaii was a treat for players. I know a lot of them bailed out of the game, but that has happened in the past two years, anyway. I have talked to many players about the subject and they said the idea of going to Hawaii in February with their family and friends was something they all looked forward to.

In the current format, Super Bowl participants can’t play in the Pro Bowl. What kind of sense does that make? An All-Star game without players from the two best teams in the league is a lackluster affair, and I think interest from players in this format will seriously wane in the coming years.

If I were running the show at 280 Park Avenue for a day, I’d push back the Pro Bowl until after the Super Bowl and send it back to the Islands.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Our divisional bloggers discuss one thing they'd change as commissioner for a day:

Serving as NFL commissioner for one day would have its perks, such as not holding the job for the other 364 days in the year.

Roger Goodell has cut his pay to $1 this year amid labor turmoil. He's become a reviled figure among players -- "Fraud-ger" to some.

Give me his job for a day and I'd stand up for the West Coast. Those 10 a.m. PT kickoffs we've complained about for years would fly away forever. I'd level the playing field for teams traveling West to East.

This isn't complicated stuff. Guys were writing about it in Alaska science forums more than 15 years ago.

NFC West teams have repeatedly asked the league to give them 1 p.m. PT kickoffs for games they play in the Eastern time zone.

West Coast players naturally have a harder time when forced to wake up at 5 or 6 a.m. PT on game days.

"From having been an East Coast team that played in the NFC West when I played for Atlanta, it was much easier going East to West than it is going West to East," Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said earlier this year.

The league took action quickly when the New England Patriots complained about playing two games on the West Coast in succession several years ago. Owners voted to change the scheduling rotation so that Eastern teams drawing Western divisions in the rotation would not visit San Diego and Oakland or Seattle and San Francisco in the same season.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals are scheduled to play six road games this season at 10 or 11 a.m. Phoenix time. The 49ers and Seattle Seahawks each play five road games kicking off at 10 a.m. PT.

"We need to come together as a group of West Coast teams," San Francisco 49ers president Jed York said back in 2009.

That, or make me commissioner for a day. I'll even waive the $1 salary.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Our divisional bloggers discuss one thing they'd change as commissioner for a day:

James Harrison and the Pittsburgh Steelers would not have disparaging remarks for me as NFL commissioner. In fact, Harrison would be happier and have a lot more money in his pocket if I were running the league.

The first thing I would do as NFL commissioner is veto the league's increased fines and penalties on big hits. Football has always been a very physical game, and that's a major reason why it's the most popular sport in America. Injuries are an occupational hazard and players know what they're getting into.

No football player is in favor of a softer, less physical league, which is where things are going. I think it's very important to preserve the physical essence of the game.

Similarly, I would push for several rule changes to help the defense. Many rules in recent years have been made by the competition committee to help the offense -- particularly the passing game -- and increase scoring. This is not the Arena Football League. Fans do not need to see scores in the 50s and 60s.

Next, it's getting increasingly difficult to stop the pass. So I would push to loosen the rules on pass interference and covering receivers.

If I were commissioner, defensive players could keep their hands on receivers for 10 yards, instead of five, to slow receivers' routes. Also, I'd change the pass-interference rule to 15 yards and an automatic first down, instead of spotting the ball at the point of the foul. The 15-yard college rule makes more sense.

Let's give more help to the defense.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Our divisional bloggers discuss one thing they'd change as commissioner for a day:

Elect a Pro Bowl team. Call guys Pro Bowlers. Just don’t play the game.

I still want to honor the best players in the league with an extravaganza. But I don’t want to see a watered-down version of the game kick off, and I don’t want rosters watered down by excusing players from the Super Bowl teams and guys who are injured.

The seventh quarterback in line for the AFC shouldn’t be able to call himself a Pro Bowler under any circumstances, and if we continue on the current course, Pro Bowl appearances won’t be a legitimate comparison for players from different eras.

So, here’s what we will do:

Elect Pro Bowl teams as we always have. Guys who make the team still get pineapples with the year on them in their media guide bios. They still get a week in Hawaii -- the week AFTER the Super Bowl. Rather than practices, they participate in clinics and charity events. Then, rather than the game, there is a live skills competition Sunday afternoon. Quarterback target practice. A skill position race to establish the league’s fastest man. A linemen lift to find the strongest. We’re accepting suggestions for more.

That night, guys attend a banquet to end all banquets, at which we’ll reveal the comeback player of the year, the offensive and defensive rookies of the year, executive of the year, coach of the year, offensive and defensive players of the year and the league’s MVP.

Thanks, good night. Fly home safely.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Our divisional bloggers discuss one thing they'd change as commissioner for a day:

If I were NFL commissioner for a day, they wouldn't like me very much in Indianapolis or New Jersey. Because as much as I like both of those places, neither is the right place for a Super Bowl.

[+] EnlargeCowboys Stadium
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesAn ice storm in the Dallas area made things challenging for Super Bowl organizers this year.
The Super Bowl should be in Miami or New Orleans or San Diego or even Phoenix -- places where February weather isn't going to have a chance to play havoc with the weeklong festivities that make it the most critical event of the year for the league. We saw what happened this year in Arlington, Texas, for goodness' sake, where the first-time host city botched every single aspect of its hosting responsibilities amid an ice storm for which it wasn't prepared. It shouldn't have had to be, and nobody in the NFL should be having to worry about similar weather in Indy next year or New Jersey in 2014.

It just doesn't make sense. This is the NFL's signature event. You fly in your biggest sponsors. You court big-name celebrities. You get a week's worth of international attention before the game even starts. Why would you want to hold all of that in a place where people might not want to go in February? Let alone a place they might not even be able to get to if they wanted to go?

And in the case of the New York/New Jersey Super Bowl, you're messing with game day itself. I live 20 minutes from the Meadowlands. The weather is awful here in February. Plain awful. Why, if you're the NFL, would you want even a 1 percent chance that a snowstorm or an ice storm or some miserable combination of both could mess up Super Bowl Sunday?

The whole idea is a byproduct of the inane notion that every NFL city should have a chance at hosting the Super Bowl. Hogwash. Was it that important to have one in Jacksonville? Places like Miami and New Orleans know what they're doing. There are good reasons it's been in those places so many times. Weather is a big one. The NFL has a winning formula in place for its biggest event of the year. It makes no sense to me why they insist on messing with it.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Our divisional bloggers discuss one thing they'd change as commissioner for a day:

All eight division bloggers get to play commissioner on Thursday.

We each get one wish, and since Roger Goodell has been more than a little busy with the labor situation, I’ll go ahead and jump forward on something he seems to have been dreaming about for quite some time. I’ll go ahead and put a team in London.

Yes, London. Not Los Angeles. The nation’s second-largest city last had the NFL in 1994. Through the years, there’s been steady talk of relocating a team to Los Angeles or putting an expansion team there. It hasn’t happened, and that’s not the NFL’s fault. It’s the fault of the local leaders. The league has made it clear that all Los Angeles (or one of its suburbs) needs is a modern stadium. Nobody’s been able to step up and make that happen. Forget Los Angeles. And while you’re at it, forget San Antonio and Toronto. San Antonio’s not all that big and Toronto already has a presence with the Buffalo Bills playing some home games in Canada, and their real home isn’t all that far away.

[+] EnlargeWembley Stadium
AP Photo/Dave ShoplandThe Broncos and 49ers played last season at Wembley Stadium.
Goodell’s hinted at European expansion since he became commissioner. There have been regular-season games played in London the past three years, and the response has been outstanding. London -- and all of Europe, really -- represents an untapped market far bigger than anything Los Angeles, San Antonio or Toronto can offer.

Should the league put an expansion team in London? Well, you’d probably have to add a second expansion team to balance things out, and that might be difficult. It could mean a second team in Europe or maybe even Japan, and that would only complicate the logistics. On the plus side, the league could increase its revenue stream nicely by dividing up two expansion fees.

The other option is to move an existing team to London, and that might be the more realistic alternative at the moment. The Jacksonville Jaguars have been struggling to sell tickets for years, and the Minnesota Vikings have stadium issues.

Either one could be a viable candidate, but it’s not as simple as just moving one of them to London. The NFL has to think through the process very thoroughly. Visiting teams would need bye weeks after (or maybe even before) a London trip. Divisions might have to be realigned, and some measures would have to be taken to make sure the London team stays competitive.

That could mean some extended road trips to the United States, and the London team might need a regular or borrowed practice facility on this side of the Atlantic. But, once Goodell puts the labor situation behind him, he can start working on logistics for a London team.

Spacious Wembley Stadium is waiting. I’m sure the rest of the logistics in London can be worked out a lot faster than they’ve been moved on in Los Angeles.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Our divisional bloggers discuss one thing they’d change as commissioner for a day:

Many professional football leagues that were designed to compete with or complement the NFL have failed. But my suggestion is to create another league -- an entire minor league system as an extension of the NFL.

Much like in baseball, I want every NFL franchise to have a minor league squad. In essence, they would be the “Baby Patriots” or “Baby Rams”-- call them whatever you want, but these organizations would be run by the NFL squad.

It would be a fantastic place to cultivate young talent -- especially at quarterback. Players would get valuable game experience. It would be a breeding ground for young coaches and scouts as well.

Practice squads and game-day inactives would be a thing of the past, and the major league team could send players up and down as it wished. Example: The Giants are playing the Eagles this week and Brandon Jacobs is questionable with a sore knee. Maybe New York sends a backup safety down to the farm team for the week and calls up a running back. The system could also act as a rehabbing tool for players working back from injuries.

Now, I don’t claim to be a big business tycoon or know the intricacies of what setting up a minor league system would entail. Obviously, there would be quite a bit to it. But I see it as a tremendous way to keep rosters fresh and fluid, develop a lot of young talent and get a product in other cities around the country.

NFL teams could have their minor league squads in nearby cities that have college stadiums. And maybe the games could be played on Tuesday or Wednesday nights on ESPN2.

People will watch -- I have no doubt in my mind.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Our divisional bloggers discuss one thing they'd change as commissioner for a day:

After suffering two concussions in a 10-week period last season, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers changed helmets. Exercising an under-publicized option for NFL players, Rodgers began wearing a new style of helmet made by a different manufacturer than the one that provides the league's default helmets.

Rodgers never expressed concern about his previous helmet and said little publicly about the decision. To me, however, it was a stunningly arbitrary event involving a health issue that should have no gray area.

Did Rodgers' new helmet provide better concussion protection? According to a new study by Virginia Tech researchers, it did. If so, shouldn't every NFL player have made the same switch immediately? Why didn't they? No one knows for sure. In the NFL, that seemingly simple conversation happens behind closed doors and is unfortunately affected by corporate sponsorship.

If I were commissioner for a day, I would blow those doors off their hinges. There should be no mystery, in public or private, about the latest and best innovations for preventing concussions. To me, head injuries are the biggest long-term threat to professional football. As we learn more about their causes and symptoms, and observe the long-term effects, I wonder if prospective players won't reach a tipping point on tolerable risk and if fans will begin disassociating with the game as a result.

In this case, protecting the health of players would go hand-in-hand with ensuring the future of the game. As commissioner, it would be critical to accelerate efforts to ensure players have access, knowledge and awareness of the best safety equipment. If there is any question, the commissioner must gather a cross-section of experts to identify or develop it -- or both.

If you're looking for a model, check out the work of NASCAR to protect drivers both from fire and head/spinal injuries. Just as NASCAR officials can't eliminate wrecks, the NFL commissioner can't prevent violent contact between players. What he can do, however, is ensure -- with every public certainty -- that players are as well-protected as science allows.

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