The top brass of the NFL rarely makes itself available to the national media because, more times than not, they have better things to do than answer pointed questions.
Commissioner Roger Goodell and Atlanta Falcons CEO Rich McKay stepped into the breach at the owners meetings in Arizona and attempted to field the questions thrown their way, deflecting some.
McKay, who heads the Competition Committee, said the NFL’s popularity and its level of completion is predicated on games that are close, which is why it remains the No. 1 reality show on television and through all forms of media.
“There [are] two ways to look at competition,” McKay said. “One is margin of victory. I know you’ve seen the stat published, but to have the third-smallest margin of victory in the history of the game is an impressive stat for us, given the fact that the other two years that have a lower margin are 1935 and 1932. And points per game, we were not at 45 points per game at that time. So that’s a really good thing for us. So that’s game by game. We look at competition, where we are in all 32. We are a very competitively balanced league. This was another year in which, I think it’s the 27th consecutive year, in which we had at least four teams qualify for the playoffs that didn’t qualify the year before. So, those are good stats. I have a stat about fourth-quarter comebacks and the fact that we had 72 of them, but I really don’t like to talk about comebacks.”
McKay, of course, was referencing the New England Patriots’ comeback against the Falcons in the Super Bowl.
When the question of player safety was brought up, McKay jumped at the opportunity to point out that previous rules changes and points of emphasis have been successful in achieving their goals.
“I would tell you that with respect to player safety, as a committee, we were really pleasantly surprised in watching a video that we typically don’t like to watch,” McKay said. “We watch video of every injury, every major injury, injury type, whether it’s lower leg, whether it’s shoulder, whether it’s head, whatever it may be. We were impressed when we watched the tape this year and it’s a credit to our players, to our coaches, to college football and to high school football that you are seeing players adjust the way they play the game. And playing within the rules, and trying to comply with changes that from a player standpoint have been hard, and have taken time. But I think we really saw good video this year of how players are trying to play the game well within the rules. For us that was a good thing and something that we’ve seen coming, but I would say this year it was very clear.”
But perhaps the best media fencing done was when Goodell was asked about the NFL’s ability to remain the king of sports despite the abandonment of fan bases and semi-regular scandals that have rocked teams.
Goodell earned his gigantic salary by turning a negative into a positive with the assurance that, if he gets through this minefield, he will be able to exit – making his next full-public appearance being booed loudly by fans from South Philly, as he takes his beating like a man.
He isn’t the Teflon Don 2.0 of New York, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary.
“We disagree with your premise that nothing harms us,” Goodell said. “We’re a league that has a great deal of public attention. We hold ourselves to the highest possible standards. When we don’t hit it, we work hard to try to get to that standard. We recognize the trust of our fans and the fact that we’re doing things in the best long-term interest of our game are critically important. We’re going to do those, because they’re the right things for the NFL, and our fans, and our players. We’re committed to doing the right things. We know that not everyone’s going to agree with that from time to time, but we do believe that our future is bright when we look down the path because we’re willing to make the changes that are necessary. Game presentation is a great example of that. This is something that we’ve been studying for the last couple of years. We now have fan research to back it up, to help guide us, to make sure that we’re getting the right solutions to some of these issues. This is going to make our game experience, whether it’s in the stadium or on television, or on another device, much more compelling. That’s what we have to do. We have to continue to try to get better. That was really the focus of this meeting to a large extent - innovation, getting better. Those are all things we’re going to continue to work on.”
But, until the Q&A doesn’t have a time limit, the answers to legitimate questions will still be delivered in league-appropriate fashion.
Status of Rules Changes, Proposals
- The owners banned “leapers” – players who jump over the center to block kicks.
- Replaced the sideline replay monitor (and unseemly peepshow hood) for a handheld device on the field and changed the onus of making the final call on replay challenges to the league’s officiating department.
- Tabled the proposed rule change to reduce overtime periods from 15 minutes to 10 minutes because it was clear there were at least nine votes against it. It could be brought back to a vote in May at the next owners meetings, but the tabling was indefinite.
- Violent hits deemed to be egregious will give the officials the immediate opportunity to eject players on a first offense if it is deemed unsportsmanlike beyond the typical penalty-inducing hit. Those calls will be points of emphasis for officials, which typically means it will call for more penalties and, in this case, more ejections than normal.
- Discussion of modifications of the league’s excessive celebration rules were tabled until the May meetings because, as Goodell put it, “more clarity” is needed to define the rule.
- Extended the rule that moves touchbacks to the 25-yard line. The rule instituted in 2016 was done on a one-year trial basis, but was extended for one more year. It was felt that, if the rule continues to live under its intent – reducing injuries on kickoffs, it could become a permanent rule next year.
- Made permanent the rule that disqualifies a player with two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in a game.
- Prohibited crackback blocks by an offensive player in motion in the backfield, even if he is not more than two yards outside the tackle when the ball is snapped.