ORLANDO – Player conduct has ranked among the hottest topics of the NFL offseason, and on Wednesday, the league’s competition committee announced that the league’s owners, coaches, members of the officiating committee and player leaders agree that the time has come to crack down on unsportsmanlike conduct and raise the standard of professionalism going forward.
Despite not voting to approve any rule changes in that area, the members of those groups this week have engaged in extensive discussions over the matter. The officials came to the consensus that greater enforcement, not additional rules, will create an improved environment.
“We’ve got to change our conduct on the field,” St. Louis Rams coach and Competition Committee member Jeff Fisher said at Wednesday’s press conference. “We’ve got to bring the element of respect in its highest level back to our game. So in addition to these things, sportsmanship was a significant topic throughout the last couple days.”
He added: “We are going to clean the game up on the field between the players. The in-your-face taunting, those types of things. The language, it’s all in the book, it’s all under unsportsmanlike conduct. There is no change in the rule, we are going to enforce the current rule.”
At one point during the offseason, league officials considered enacting a policy that would penalize and fine players for the use of the N-word in the field of play. But Fisher and Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, who also serves as the competition committee chairman, both said that the rules on the enforcement of taunting and other acts of poor sportsmanship already exist. Those actions have been permitted to take place with inconsistent enforcement, however, the men said.
Fisher and McKay also said that NCAA officials had expressed concern over a trickle-down effect and had reached out to the NFL about cracking down on taunting.
“If the college athlete sees something on the weekends that the pro athletes are doing, they, most of the time, are going to act the same way,” Fisher said. “[It’s] not that we’re allowing it to happen, but the incidents are increasing and we want to reduce them. Colleges are adamant about sportsmanship on the field and celebrations and taunting and things like that. They don’t tolerate it. Now, sometimes they may not see it, but we’ve got to get to that point where we can’t tolerate it.”
Besides more vigilant enforcement by officiating crews and reminders from coaches and players, it remains unclear exactly what the crackdown consists of. But commissioner Roger Goodell said improving the climate would require effort from all sides.
“This is a professional workplace for everybody,” Goodell said. “That’s players, coaches, trainers, equipment men, executives. All of us expect that and it is our job to make sure we deliver that. I think this is going to be a collective effort.”
Meanwhile, the competition committee leaders announced the approval of a number of rule changes, the rejection of others and the tabling of a handful more.
The owners on Wednesday voted to extend the height of the uprights from 30 feet to 35 feet above the crossbar in the coming year. The reasoning behind that change is to provide a more definitive ruling on field goals that potentially would have crossed over the top of the uprights, as they have in years past.
The owners also approved the expanding of instant replay, which would allow officials to review the recovery of a loose ball in the field of play. That vote came a day after the owners approved a vote to allow the game-day official to consult the league office during instant replay reviews.
The league will experiment with moving the point after attempt to the 20-yard line. The first two preseason games will feature that change. Meanwhile, attempts for two-point conversions will continue to start at the 2-yard line. The New England Patriots had proposed permanently moving the extra-point attempt to the 25-yard line, but that proposal was tabled.
The Patriots also had proposed the expansion of instant replay to include the review of all plays, but the owners voted against that.
The Redskins had proposed moving kickoffs from the 35-yard-line to the 40, but the league’s owners rejected that proposal as well. Washington also proposed expanding Injured Reserve rules to include more than one early-return designation, but had that rule voted down as well.
The matter of expanded playoff remains a matter of debate, but the owners didn’t vote on that topic. Goodell said that “more information is needed as of now, and that discussions will remain ongoing.”
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