Pro Bowl survives, likely to change
Playoff expansion, stadiums, safety also addressed as owners meetings close
PHOENIX -- Along with safety, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell constantly emphasizes making efforts to improve the game for fans.
Traditionalists don't like that. Football often is a game resistant to change, but many of the changes have worked. Defensive players complain the game is becoming too soft, but there is still plenty of hitting, and ratings are great. Fantasy players love that offense is king.
Here are five things we learned about where the league is heading as the owners meetings concluded Wednesday:
1. The Pro Bowl is alive, but it's still on year-to-year life support: Goodell announced the Pro Bowl will return to Hawaii in 2014 and be held between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. It remains to be seen how the game will be structured. Goodell presented some wild ideas. The boldest one is a player-suggested idea in which two captains pick teams from the pool of players selected to the Pro Bowl. From that format, the league could put on a selection show that could generate interest. Goodell used the example that Peyton and Eli Manning could have been the captains to choose teams this past season. What isn't known is whether owners would go for such a dramatic change. Goodell was pleased players brought more energy and professionalism to last season's Pro Bowl. The game was a little better. Players were happy with the news Wednesday that the game will remain in Hawaii, but there is talk about rotating the game to other locations, such as Arizona, New Orleans and Miami.
2. Talk about playoff expansion may heat up a year from now: Twelve teams currently qualify for the playoffs each season. Brief discussions were held about adding two or four teams in the future. Goodell and the league are trying to figure out when the right time would be to expand. Clearly, the money has to be right. Goodell admitted such an expansion could involve shortening the preseason to as few as two games. Four preseason games per team aren't working. Season-ticket holders complain about being forced to pay regular-season prices for what might be considered a bad product. Goodell can't guarantee next year's owners meeting will be the one to get playoff expansion moving, but it's starting to point in that direction. For that to happen, though, there would have to be an agreement with the players and television partners.
3. Updating the Rooney Rule: The Rooney Rule has helped minority assistants get head-coaching jobs, but it has become outdated. Not enough minorities are coordinators, so the pool of potential candidates has dwindled. Lovie Smith lost his job in Chicago, Romeo Crennel was dismissed in Kansas City and diversity hiring wasn't evident when this year's eight new head coaches were named. Problems exist on the general manager front, too. At this meeting, owners decided to bring back a symposium to help educate minority candidates, preparing them for top positions. Owners discussed ways of adding more flexibility to the interview process to help put minority candidates before owners, but nothing was resolved. Education will help, but much more is needed. There is talk about the NFL getting involved in a developmental league, but something like that might be a year or two away from happening. The process moved forward, but, unfortunately, a lot more needs to be resolved.
4. Stadiums, stadiums, stadiums: The NFL moved forward on projects to provide funding for the Minnesota Vikings' new stadium. The Atlanta Falcons are getting a new stadium, too. Buffalo reached an agreement for a new 10-year lease to upgrade Ralph Wilson Stadium. "We have some stadium projects that are moving along -- Minnesota and Buffalo -- that are all very positive," Goodell said. But the Los Angeles situation remains unresolved. AEG's problems of late could hurt the chances for Farmers Field to be built in downtown L.A. While other groups might be involved, nothing is close to happening. "I do think it's a positive that [AEG boss] Phil Anschutz has not only re-engaged but also said that he would like to see a stadium get built at that site," Goodell said. The waiting game continues.
5. Safety first: It was a great meeting for safety issues. The competition committee went six-for-six in getting proposals passed. The toughest battle was for the crown-of-the-helmet penalty against running backs more than 3 yards downfield or outside the tackle box. The final vote was 31-1, with the Cincinnati Bengals objecting.
"It's a very controversial change," Bengals owner Mike Brown said. "I view it as a difficult if not impossible play to call. We had a lot of this with the secondary plays last year. I didn't think those calls were always right. These plays happen in a flash. They're just a reaction to people. Did he hit him with his shoulder pad? Did he hit him with his helmet? Was it intended? That's difficult to sort out. I'm not confident we should add another discretionary call." The league stressed education. Positive hit tapes will be sent out next week to coaches. The league will send tapes to show how officials are being instructed to call it. The side judge, back judge and field judge all will have to watch for these plays and then consult to see if there is a 15-yard penalty. That sales pitch helped the proposal win approval on Wednesday.
As for eliminating the "tuck rule," that was an easy one. The Pittsburgh Steelers objected because they didn't see a need for change. The New England Patriots abstained. The Washington Redskins abstained because their general manager, Bruce Allen, was Oakland's GM when the Pats beat the Raiders in the tuck rule playoff game. The other 29 teams voted to get rid of the rule.