NFL's Goodell Proposes Crackdown on Cheating

Roger Goodell wants the NFL to conduct unannounced inspections and lower the standard of proof needed for him to impose penalties.
Roger Goodell wants the NFL to conduct unannounced inspections and lower the standard of proof needed for him to impose penalties. (By Dennis Cook -- Associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 7, 2008

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants the league to conduct unannounced inspections of locker rooms, stadium press boxes and in-game communications equipment, and to lower the standard of proof needed for him to impose penalties on a team or person for cheating, according to a memo obtained by The Washington Post.

The proposals were among a series of changes Goodell wants implemented before next season "to preserve the competitive integrity of the game" and "maintain public confidence" in the sport, according to the memo, which he sent to the league's competition committee yesterday. The memo represents Goodell's strongest response to the controversy stemming from the videotaping scandal involving the New England Patriots this past season and the league's handling of it.

"As the Commissioner and Competition Committee, we must take every appropriate step to safeguard the integrity of the NFL," Goodell wrote in the memo. "We have already taken some positive and significant actions this past season, but we must go further to ensure fair competition amongst our 32 teams and maintain public confidence in our game."

Goodell pledged to impose more severe penalties on teams and employees who violate rules governing competition. He also proposed a measure requiring team employees to report "actual or suspected" violations and another that would require each team's principal owner, top football executive and head coach to stipulate annually, under the threat of league discipline, that they complied with the rules and reported violations.

In addition, Goodell endorsed a proposal to connect one defensive player per team with a coach on the sideline via a wireless device during games, and urged the committee to conduct "a thorough review" of all competitive rules and policies.

"I think there are a number of steps that should be taken in advance of the start of the 2008 season to improve and strengthen the enforcement procedures designed to preserve the competitive integrity of the game," Goodell wrote.

The competition committee, which is the NFL's primary rule-making body, will convene for a week of meetings in Naples, Fla., beginning Wednesday. Ray Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, said that Goodell's proposals will be considered at those meetings.

"All of these are things we are going to explore more fully," Anderson said by telephone from the league offices in New York.

Said New York Giants co-owner John Mara, a member of the competition committee: "We're all concerned about the integrity of the game. My interpretation is, the commissioner is asking us to look at different ways to enforce the rules to make sure everyone is on a level playing field and our fans can be confident in the integrity of our game. I don't think there's widespread cheating going on, but when you're in such a competitive industry, sometimes there are suspicions out there."

Goodell wrote in his memo that the competition committee should not feel bound by his proposals. Any recommendations by the committee could be presented to owners at the annual league meeting that begins March 30 in Palm Beach, Fla. A proposed rule change must be approved by at least three-fourths of the owners. But Goodell could enact some of the administrative proposals in his memo unilaterally, and several people familiar with the issue said they don't foresee him encountering much opposition to any measure he deems necessary.

Goodell received widespread praise for his crackdown last year on player misconduct. However, he has received criticism for his handling of the New England scandal. In September, Goodell fined the Patriots $250,000 and Coach Bill Belichick $500,000 and stripped the team of a first-round draft pick after it was caught videotaping the defensive play signals of the New York Jets' coaches, in violation of league rules, during the opening game of the season. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has been highly critical of the league's handling of the case and has threatened to reexamine the NFL's exemption from federal antitrust laws.

League officials said that after that incident, the NFL informed teams that they would be monitored more closely for violations of the rules governing fair play. Anderson said yesterday that included checks of the wireless communication equipment in stadiums used by teams during games. Goodell wrote in his memo that the previously undisclosed program will continue.

Goodell wrote: "This will include spot checks of club facilities, including team locker rooms; press boxes and coaches booths; coach-to-quarterback and other in-stadium communication systems . . . and enhanced monitoring of team practices. Many of these checks will be virtually unannounced and clubs would be expected fully to cooperate with this effort."

One person familiar with Goodell's proposals said the new threshold for imposing punishment for a rule violation would be closer to a preponderance of the evidence than beyond a reasonable doubt.

"Too often, competitive violations have gone unpunished because conclusive proof of the violation was lacking," Goodell wrote. "I believe we should reconsider the standard of proof to be applied in such cases, and make it easier for a competitive violation to be established. And where a violation is shown, I intend to impose more stringent penalties on both the club and the responsible individual(s). I will also be prepared to make greater use of draft choice forfeiture in appropriate cases. I believe this will have the effect of deterring violations and making people more willing to report violations on a timely basis."

The coach-to-defense communication proposal fell two votes shy of owner approval last spring. It would eliminate the need for coaches to use hand signals for defensive plays and it would put the defense on equal footing with the offense, because quarterbacks already use those devices.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company