Friday, February 3, 2012
Sunny days for NFL
By John Clayton
INDIANAPOLIS -- A year ago, commissioner Roger Goodell gave his annual state of the NFL in Dallas, where snow and ice had shut down the roads and the league was heading into a lockout that could have wiped out the 2011 season.
This year, Goodell's Super Bowl XLVI address couldn't have been sunnier. The league and the players have 10 years of labor peace. Even though Indianapolis was expected to be a cold-weather Super Bowl, temperatures have been near record highs and the sun has been out most of the week.
What a difference a year makes.
The league survived a lockout, losing only one preseason game, and fan support has not wavered. Television ratings continue to soar. Stadium projects are progressing. Network television contracts have been finalized.
Here is what we learned from Friday's state of the NFL address:
1. Don't expect expansion anytime soon: On Thursday night, Goodell was asked about giving an expansion franchise to Los Angeles if the city would build a stadium. He said the league would have to expand by two teams and go to 34 franchises instead of being at the odd number of 33. But expansion isn't in the plans. Owners like the 32-team model. For scheduling purposes, 32 teams couldn't work any better. It allows for 14 common games among divisional opponents. The eight-division model is working. Expansion isn't a thought that will be discussed in the March owners meetings. Still, getting a team for Los Angeles remains an issue. On Thursday, owners approved a $200 million ante to the San Francisco 49ers to help build a stadium in San Jose. Goodell expressed support for stadium efforts in San Diego, Minnesota and St. Louis to keep those franchises from moving.
2. Moving back the trade deadline will be discussed: Many have felt the NFL trade deadline is too early in the season. Under current rules, the trade deadline falls on the Tuesday after Week 6 of the regular season. If the same rule were applied to baseball, the MLB trade deadline would be around late May or June when teams haven't figured out if they are contenders or pretenders. Goodell isn't recommending the deadline being pushed back, but he wants the league's competition committee to study the subject. Change can be slow in the NFL, so there is no guarantee owners will vote on a deadline move in March. Still, I can see it happening eventually because the current deadline is outdated.
3. HGH testing controversy update: Goodell and the owners want HGH testing to start immediately. NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said his union won't be bullied into a plan that involves blood tests. My read is that both sides will get a deal done before the start of the 2012 season. The league contends players have received plenty of information about how tests are conducted and the accuracy of those tests. Smith said the union would accept a plan if it receives a population study that details how results are tabulated. Smith is still getting his players to accept the idea of blood tests, a concept uncomfortable to players. I wouldn't be surprised if they get something done around the time of the April draft once more information is given to the players.
4. The science of concussions: Goodell discussed safety issues, particularly the problems with concussions, at length. He said the NFL is learning more and more about the causes and damage of concussions, but more money and research are needed. Goodell likes the idea of having a trainer at every game to look for hits that would require concussion tests on the sidelines. One option is to have that person have access to video tape in order to review a hit that could result in a concussion. Goodell revealed that years ago the missed practice time for a player who suffered a concussion was half a day. Now, it's six days, showing how more cautious team doctors are with players suffering from concussion-like symptoms. In response to a story that indicated the NFL was trying to insert language into future contracts to prevent a player from suing his team after a career in which concussions were a factor, Goodell said there was no league-wide effort to do that.
5. Expansion of the Thursday night package: Goodell said the number of Thursday night games will grow from eight to 13 and will start in the second week of the regular season. Part of that NFL Network package is making sure every NFL team gets a night game. With the regular season starting on a Thursday night on NBC and NBC getting a Thanksgiving Day game, Thursday nights are now part of the NFL fans' schedule to go with Sunday day and night, Monday night and a Saturday or two late in the season.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Follow Clayton on Twitter @ClaytonESPN.