Time to change the rules

PackerReport.com's Matt Tevsh says it's time for the National Football League and NFL Players Association to team up and change the guidelines for participation in off-season practices. Making more practices mandatory would make for better teams, Tevsh says.

The NFL and the Packers need to wake up when it comes to mini-camps, Organized Team Activities (OTA's), or whatever catchy term is used today for practices held in the off-season.

The latest round of such practice sessions held by the Packers began on May 31 and will continue intermittently through June 21. Fourteen practices total are scheduled in Green Bay over three weeks before the more serious business of training camp begins later this summer.

The OTA's being held now by the team are technically voluntary, thus the most prominent headlines that have been circulating are related to those players who are not at practice and the reasons why. Outside of who is in better shape than a year ago and who is out of shape, those "missing in action" are the only compelling story this time of year.

A bigger story, though, should be exactly why these practices are voluntary. If they truly are important to the team's success and unity for the upcoming season, then attendance at mini-camps would be a part of each player's contract and league rules. As it stands now, many players have an option to attend, which gives coaches, fans, and the media justifiable reasons to question why a team leader like Al Harris is not present.

A collective effort on the part of the NFL owners, the league office, and the Players Association would be needed to change the language of mini-camps. If they have a purpose, as coaches preach, then all players should be required to attend or face consequences just as they would during the pre-season or regular season.

Article XXXVI of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFL Management Council and the NFL Players Association defines "Minicamps." Section One states that "Each League Year each Club may hold a maximum of one mandatory minicamp for veteran players. If a Club hires a new head coach after the end of the regular season, that Club may hold two additional voluntary minicamps for veteran players. There is no limitation on the number of minicamps a Club may hold for rookie players."

To even have an Article on minicamps suggests such team meetings hold some contractual and structural significance to the welfare of the NFL. Bringing in the term "voluntary" under Section One, though, would open up the possibility of disharmony for individual teams – something the league probably would not want because the sum of the parts is what makes the NFL great.

So to clear up any problems with mini-camps, here is a solution: Make them mandatory and have concrete dates spelled out in the CBA if they are to remain a part of the CBA at all. That should not be too much for the Players Association to agree with considering football has the longest off-season of all the major professional sports. Meeting for a couple of weeks during so-called vacation should not be too much too ask.

Instituting mandatory sessions would make for more productive practices and arguably better teams. That should, in theory, make for a better overall product. It would also eliminate any communication issues between team officials and players which appeared to be a problem with the Packers this week.

"The number of veterans that have missed, a lot of them are personal situations," said head coach Mike McCarthy. "We had a number of things come up. A lot of it, too, is scheduling. Any time you have a new coach who puts in a totally different program, you're going to have scheduling issues. I've talked a number of times to the football team, and every team has different issues, and one of ours is communication. We need to do a better job communicating to one another, and I think they're doing a better job of that. As we move forward and instill our off-season program, obviously I'm looking for better participation."

McCarthy may not get that participation under voluntary guidelines. He got an extra mini-camp this year being a new coach, but without his entire team there, he is finding it difficult to get everyone on the same page at the start. He has a right to expect more from his team at this stage of his head coaching career.

"Personally, I'll never be pleased until we have 100 percent participation," said McCarthy.

With issues like the salary cap and revenue sharing in the spotlight recently, it is easy to see why a topic like minicamps may not be a primary issue for the league. Such practices exist for a reason, though, and because they are an important step to building a winning team and better competition, their voluntary status needs to be addressed.


Matt Tevsh

Editor's note: Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com.


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