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Friday, February 1, 2008
Chargers-Saints game in London official; Bills to play some games in Toronto

Associated Press

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, in between questions about Spygate and why he ordered the demise of six videotapes, addressed numerous other topics in his "State of the NFL" speech Friday in Phoenix.

As expected, Goodell announced that the New Orleans Saints will host the San Diego Chargers at Wembley Stadium in London on Oct. 26.

"The reception we got was extraordinary for last year's game [the Giants against the Dolphins], and we're so grateful we're coming back," Goodell said, noting that many franchises had expressed interest in the London game.

The league approved the Buffalo Bills' plan to play a regular-season game in Toronto in each of the next five seasons, plus a preseason game in Canada every other year. Goodell said the Bills' plan "was done thoughtfully to help regionalize the team even more broadly."

Shuler: Churches should show game

Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC), a former NFL player, has asked the NFL to allow churches to show the Super Bowl on big screen TVs.

"It makes no sense to me that churches would be prevented from providing a safe, friendly, and alcohol-free environment for fans to watch the Super Bowl," Shuler said in a news release from his office. "As a former player and an active church member, I have participated in these fellowship events and understand their value."

Churches, because of federal copyright law, can't show the game on a screen larger than 55 inches.

That game almost certainly will be in December, after the CFL's Grey Cup has been played.

For the first time in years, the league is considering revamping seedings in the playoffs to ensure that more late-season games are meaningful. That could lead to a wild-card team actually hosting a first-round game if it has a better record than the division winner it is meeting.

Goodell admitted concern that some teams had virtually nothing to play for toward the end of the schedule.

"The incentive should be to win as many games as possible," he said. "Last season, I believe there were nine games in the last two weeks when at least one of the teams did not have any impact on the postseason [riding on the outcome]."

Among other issues Goodell touched upon:

•  Responding to complaints from some retired NFL players, Goodell said he wants to speed up disability payments to league alumni.

"The players that helped build this game deserve to have a system that's responsive, professionally done, independently done, and that's what we're working on,'' Goodell said.

"In fact, we have made some changes that I think will take some of the red tape out and make the process, hopefully, simpler to get to the results that we are looking for, which is to have an effective, responsive disability program,'' Goodell said.

Goodell said he spent "four or five hours" talking to NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw about possible changes in the program.

"I'm confident that we're going to make some changes that are going to be beneficial to our former players," said Goodell, who did not elaborate on any changes.

•  There is no timetable for testing of human growth hormone in the NFL. The league has given anti-doping researcher Don Catlin $500,000 to look into an HGH urine test, and also invested $3 million with the USOC to be used for anti-doping research.

"We're not at a point of a widely used test we can be comfortable with," Goodell said. "I don't think there's a significant amount of HGH use, but I have no basis in fact for saying that."

•  He believes the owners and the NFL Players Association can make progress toward extending or revamping the collective bargaining agreement, which runs through 2010. Both sides can opt out of the deal in November, which would lead to no salary cap for the 2010 season.

"The labor agreement is critically important to our business, which has changed over recent years," he noted, adding that costs have increased greatly because of stadium construction debt. "That needs to be recognized in the labor agreement and the union has recognized it."

•  Goodell said violations of the player conduct policy decreased by 20 percent, including a large reduction among rookies. He also emphasized that the league, in the wake of the death of Washington Redskins player Sean Taylor and three other 24-year-old players, is doing "everything we can to educate players on simple things they can do to protect themselves and their families. They are celebrities."