Owners to mull rules, bigger playoffs

ByJeff Legwold ESPN logo
Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The NFL's competition committee will present a long list of potential rules changes at the league meetings in Orlando, Fla., next week but said Wednesday that the power to penalize players for use of slurs, including the N-word, is already in the hands of the officials and will be exercised in the coming season.

In a conference call where it was announced that a discussion of expanding the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams is also on the agenda, the committee's co-chairmen -- Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay and St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher -- said enforcing the rule will be a "major point of emphasis'' in the coming season and a flag would result in a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

"We do have a section of the book that deals with sportsmanship and addresses the use of abusive or threatening or insulting language, it emphasizes it can be a foul for unsportsmanlike conduct,'' McKay said. "It's right in the rule as it's written today -- rule 12, section 3, article 1B -- and we emphasize that we empower a foul to be called for that type of language.''

"We have the current rule,'' Fisher said. " ... The N-word would fall under that category, the officials will be empowered to call a foul if there's racial slurs or statements about players' sexual orientation or even baiting the official in verbal abuse, falls under and ... it's going to be a very significant point of emphasis.''

McKay and Fisher said there is a significant portion of the competition committee's report, which will be distributed to the team owners Monday, dedicated to sportsmanship. McKay said there were nine penalties called for taunting in the 2012 season, but the total increased to 34 last season.

McKay said when officials meet with players during the preseason it will be clearly explained how it will be enforced.

"We're going beyond the field of play, we're going to the workplace, we're going to respect to this game,'' Fisher said. " ... There's going to be numerous discussions with respect to the topic and we're going to move forward.''

The expansion of the playoff field is not a formal proposal from the competition committee. The committee supported expansion of the playoff field at last March's league meetings and is expected to submit that support of an expanded playoff field once again when the report is given to the team owners on Monday.

League spokesman Greg Aiello said it was not known if the owners would formally vote on an expanded playoff field next week.

"With respect to expansion of the playoffs ... in last year's report, if you went back and looked at it, you would see we took a position on expanded playoffs and we supported the expanded playoffs,'' McKay said. "Likewise we have re-written that position ... it will be distributed to the members on Monday.''

The current format of four division winners and two wild-card teams has existed since 2002, when Houston joined the league as an expansion team, bringing the membership to 32.

Commissioner Roger Goodell has suggested a change to the one-point kick on extra points might be needed because they have become so automatic. New England has proposed moving the line of scrimmage to the 25 for a one-point try, but leaving it at the 2-yard line for a 2-point conversion.

"There are a lot of different views in respect to the extra point,'' said McKay said. "There were 1,267 tried and 1,262 made %5Bin 2013%5D, and so there is that thought with the extra point maybe we need to add little more skill, and one of the ways to do it might be the way New England proposed.''

Overall, the competition committee with submit 13 potential playing rules changes, seven potential changes to league by-laws and one resolution.

The potential rules changes, many of which were submitted by either the Washington Redskins or New England Patriots, are:

 Move the kickoff to 40-yard line.

 Expand instant replay to include personal fouls.

 Eliminate overtime in preseason.

 Extend goal posts five additional feet above crossbar.

 Move line of scrimmage on an extra point to 25-yard line.

 Install fixed cameras on all boundary lines to improve instant replay.

 Allow coach to use replay challenges on bigger variety of plays.

 Tweak rules on blocks to defenders' legs to include penalties for blockers who roll up on the side of defenders' legs.

 Allow game official to contact central command center during replay challenges.

 Change rule to allow a clear fumble recovery even if play was blown dead on field.

 Take away stopping of clock on sack.

 Make pass interference line the line of scrimmage, instead of 1-yard beyond line of scrimmage to address contact on rub or pick plays.

 Change where defensive fouls behind the line of scrimmage are enforced.

The by-law changes to be considered are:

 Increase gameday roster from 46 to 49 for regular-season games played on days other than Sunday, Monday or on the season-opening weekend.

 Increase practice squad to 10 players.

 Allow trades prior to start of league year.

 Eliminate cut to 75 players in preseason, only make one roster cut, to 53 just before start of regular season.

 Permit more than one player to return from injured reserve after at least six weeks on injured reserve.

 Allow additional time and testing of draft eligible players in weeks leading up to draft.

 Move final roster cuts before regular season to 4 p.m. ET on Saturday following final preseason games instead of 6 p.m.

The resolution, submitted by the Indianapolis Colts would allow teams to open or close a retractable roof stadium at halftime. Currently the rule stats if the roof is open or closed to start the game, it must stay that way.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.