Owners Discuss the Big Three

As NFL owners begin their annual meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., three topics of discussion could greatly impact the game as early as this season - the seeding of playoff teams by record, allowing defenses to communicate with the sideline through a player headset and potentially increasing the size of training camp rosters.

The NFL owners meetings are underway, and historically there have been some dramatic changes coming out of those meetings. For years, instant replay was a hot topic – a move that dramatically changed the face of the game by allowing coaches to try to reverse calls by the officials they believe were wrong. Replay was spawned from the 1979 AFC Championship Game. At the time, the Steelers led 17-10 and the Oilers appeared to tie the game with a touchdown to wide receiver Mike Renfro. The officials ruled him out of bounds despite the fact the replay was conclusive that Renfro came down with both feet in bounds. The Oilers never came back, losing 27-13 but giving rise to the belief that, had the touchdown been allowed, the rest of the game would have been played differently and that a missed call cost the Oilers a chance to go to the Super Bowl.

The process to get replay instated in the first place and finally made permanent was the result of several owners meetings. With 24 of the 32 owners needing to vote in favor of replay, it was constantly up for a new vote in which owners who had been burned by a bad replay decision (in their minds, at least) could band together and kill it.

This year's owners meetings are going to potentially have similar significance, as time-honored rules of play could be altered dramatically.

At the forefront of the discussion will be changing one of the traditional mantras of the NFL – win your division and you get your first playoff game at home. Commissioner Roger Goodell is pushing a plan in which the teams with the best records would lock down postseason seeds accordingly. Under such a plan, the Jaguars, who had to play on the road in the first round of the 2007 playoffs, would have had a home game by virtue of their 12-4 record and, depending on the outcome of the other AFC wild card game, wouldn't have necessarily had to play the undefeated Patriots in the divisional round.

Traditionalists are going to argue that the league is cyclical and that some years one or two divisions are down. But, winning your division entitles you to a home game in your first playoff game – a reward for being the best in your division. While seeding the teams by virtue of record seems logical, all they need is nine old-school owners to band together and the proposal will fail. While many believe it will pass, it is far from certain. If it does pass, however, it will likely open the door for teams to play much more competitively in the final week or two of the regular season if there is still something to play for rather than resting more key starters because their playoff spot has already been determined under the current system and there is nowhere to move up or down.

A proposal that will get some serious debate is whether to allow defenses to have wireless communications systems like the offenses have. The problem with that is really quite simple – who gets to wear the headset? On offense, the quarterback is always on the field, so he is the logical choice. On defense, there aren't always three-down players, and with some teams running a 3-4 defense and others running a 4-3, not everybody has the classic middle linebacker position. This one seems like it will be coming – if not this year at least eventually – but it won't come easy if there isn't a uniform way of designating which defensive player gets to hear his coach's voice in his helmet. Currently, the proposal doesn't specify a certain position; rather, just that one player on defense would be allowed the communication system in his helmet. If he is injured, another player is designated as the backup to have the system and would retrive his replacement helmet.

Another proposal is to increase the number of players allowed on a training camp roster. The number is currently at 80 players, but that wasn't always an accurate figure. Teams were able to designate players they allocated to NFL Europe as not counting against the current 80-man limit. If a team sent five players to NFL Europe, it could have 85 players in training camp instead of the mandated 80 players. With NFL Europe folding after last season, there is a push being made to increase the number as a result. Buccaneers officials have requested a number as high as 90, but somewhere in the 85 range is more realistic. But, with the potential for problems with the players union, this could be a sticking point the owners don't want to deal with.

Each of these Big Three proposals could have significant ramifications on how the game is played. Much of the debate coming out of the meetings will center on Goodell's "integrity of the game" belief system, which ranges from everything from cheating at the scale of the Patriots to tampering at the scale of the 49ers to personal conduct of players and even exposed hair coming out of the back of helmets. While those are all important topics, whether Troy Polamalu has to wear a hairnet is really small potatoes. The Big Three could have a major impact on the game and will be the real reason why the owners are meeting this week in Palm Beach. The results of those meetings could greatly impact how the game is played and what teams play for the next Super Bowl title.

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