By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 26, 2009
DANA POINT, Calif., March 25 -- The NFL appeared well on its way to enacting a plan to lengthen its regular season as the sport's franchise owners departed the annual league meeting Wednesday.
A tentative proposal to increase the regular season from 16 games to 17 or 18, and to reduce the preseason by a corresponding number of games, wasn't put to a vote of the owners at this week's meeting. But it was discussed extensively, and several owners said there was very little opposition.
"I think we're heading in that direction," New York Giants co-owner John Mara said.
Mara said he favors a 16-game regular season but has little company in that regard among the owners.
"I don't know if there is anyone else," Mara said, adding a longer regular season "is coming."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said there is "a very strongly held view both internally and with our fans" to go to a longer regular season and shorten the preseason.
"I think the feedback we had is we can do this and do it effectively," Goodell said.
Goodell reiterated that the owners could vote on the measure in May at their scheduled spring meeting. He has said the issue will be addressed with the players' union during the upcoming labor negotiations. The owners and players would have to agree to a system to compensate the players.
The league also will discuss the proposal with the television networks, Goodell said. The measure has widespread support among the owners in large part because of their belief that more regular season games would bring higher TV rights fees.
"I think it's a really interesting conversation that's ongoing," said Steve Tisch, the Giants' other co-owner. "The fans have indicated they'd like to see changes to the preseason, and ownership is very interested in the discussions."
The measure probably would not be enacted before the 2011 season. Goodell and several owners said it is not yet clear whether the league will propose a 17-game or an 18-game regular season. A 17-game season could mean more games at international sites during the season's extra weekend. But most owners seem to favor an 18-game season to allow each club to play nine games at home and nine on the road.
The owners voted Wednesday to expand the scope of plays subject to instant replay review, including making one modification that would have remedied this past season's notorious officiating gaffe by referee Ed Hochuli.
Hochuli erroneously ruled that a fumble by Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler in the late stages of an early-season game was an incomplete pass, negating a game-saving fumble recovery by the San Diego Chargers. Because the call could not be overturned via replay review, the Broncos retained possession and proceeded to score a touchdown and a game-winning two-point conversion.
Under the new rule, the defensive team could be awarded possession if it made a recovery and the review shows the play to have been a fumble rather than an incomplete pass. The rule, proposed by the NFL's competition committee, goes into effect next season.
The owners also voted to make a call of a loose ball being out of bounds before it is recovered subject to replay review.
Another change was approved to modify the system by which the draft order is determined. The 12 teams that reach the playoffs will automatically have the 12 lowest draft spots, rather than ranking by record teams that did not make the Super Bowl.
Also, a team no longer will get a second chance at an onside kick at any point during a game; that previously had applied only to the final five minutes of a game.