Even before NFL owners meet in Orlando from March 23-26 to discuss proposals from the competition committee, one hot-button issue already has been addressed and another appears to have an experimental compromise in sight, if not a resolution.
Those two issues – the penalizing of on-field use of the N-word by players and moving the line of scrimmage to the 25 on point-after attempts – are among several playing rules and bylaw proposals that have been, or will be, studied and potentially voted on when owners convene at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grand Lakes next week.
Other potential playing rules changes include the elimination of overtime periods in preseason games; the extension of the uprights by an additional five feet above the crossbar; and allowing referees to consult with members of the NFL Officiating department during replay reviews.
Other potential bylaw proposals include the increasing of active list players for regular season games, from 46 to 49, played on a day other than Sunday or Monday, excluding the opening weekend of the season; raising the practice squad limit from eight to 10 players; and permitting more than one player to return to the active list from the reserve/injured list during the season.
But those possible changes and others have taken a back seat to the two major issues that have dominated the offseason.
Regarding penalizing on-field use of the N-word, Rich McKay, the Atlanta Falcons president/CEO and the Competition Committee chairman, said that penalizing racial slurs, sexual orientation slurs and other verbal abuses already has been accounted for in the current rulebook.
“With respect to racial slurs, we do have a section in the book that deals with sportsmanship,” McKay said. “It addressed the use of abusive, threatening or insulting language and emphasizes that it can be a foul for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“It’s right in the rule as written today: Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1b. We emphasize that we empower a foul to be called when appropriate for that type of language. It’s a pretty long section in the book that deals with sportsmanship.”
Additionally, St. Louis Rams coach and Competition Committee member Jeff Fisher said that abusive language will be a point of emphasis for the upcoming season.
“It is a significant point of emphasis for us this year,” Fisher said. “We are going beyond the field of play. We are going to the workplace. We are going to respect for this game and so forth.
“There are going to be numerous discussions with respect to the topic and we are going to move forward. As far as sportsmanship declining, we have seen instances of taunting increase ever so slightly on the field, those that are called and those that are not called. We recognize that we need to clean up a lot of the activity on the field as well.”
As to moving the line of scrimmage to the 25-yard line for point-after attempts, which roughly will result in a 42-yard PAT, that proposal was submitted by New England, with the intent being to make PATs a more competitive play.
Last season, Fisher said, only five PATs were unsuccessful – 1,262 of 1,267. Four were blocked and one was missed.
“So I think there is that thought that with the extra point you need to add a little more skill into it,” McKay said. “One of the ways to do it would be just the way New England proposed, which is move it back and add more skill to it.
“You’d probably drop the success rate down to 90 percent as opposed to 99.6 percent this year. The year before it was 99.5. It’s that type of discussion. There are many options.”
Two-point conversion attempts still will be scrimmaged from the 2-yard line.
If the measure doesn’t pass, Fisher said that the league still could consider experimenting with moving back the line of scrimmage for PATs to the 20-yard line during one weekend of games this preseason.
“It’s on our radar,” Fisher said of moving the PAT line of scrimmage to the 20 for a preseason weekend. “But we obviously didn’t do anything specific with respect to a proposal.”