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NFL Competition Committee Conference Call

NFL Competition Committee Conference Call Atlanta Falcons via Flickr

NFL

Competition Committee holds conference call

The NFL Competition Committee held a conference call this afternoon to discuss their agenda for the NFL Annual Meeting. Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent was joined by Committee Chairman and Atlanta Falcons President & CEO Rich McKay and Dean Blandino, who is the Senior Vice President of Officiating.

The NFL Annual Meeting will be held at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona from March 26-29. During the call, they discussed a general itinerary for the events that will take place.

The Annual Meeting information guide will include all of the rule and by-law proposals which will also be posted on NFL Communications website. They will also be emailed to all media that has registered for credentials.

The meeting will official kickoff at 6:00 pm Sunday evening and conclude at approximately 11:00 am Wednesday morning.

The AFC and NFC Coaches Media Breakfasts will take place for one hour. They start at 7:15 am on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. There will also be a press conference held by the Competition Committee. (after the conclusion of the AFC breakfast on Tuesday.)

All times mentioned above are for local, Pacific time.

I am relaying the following information and quotes from Mr. Vincent, Mr. McKay, and Mr. Blandino as they were heard during today’s conference call of which I took part.

Troy Vincent

Troy Vincent began with a quick overview of where the journey  started post-Super Bowl. The journey from one season to the next and the process of evaluations and changes to be made. It leads us on to the start of the 2017 NFL season.The Committee met in New York and then again multiple days at the Combine in Indianapolis.

“We just concluded here in Phoenix. The meetings were very productive. The main focus is player safety followed by the quality of the game. Filmed showed that the quality of our game is extraordinary. While it is in a good place, we won’t stop aiming for perfection. There has been a lot of discussion about full time officials. We continue to look at the accuracy in the officiating. Dean Blandino will discuss more on officiating. Also focused on the pace of game, importance of sportsmanship, and taking improper techniques out of the game. Video shows that the players are constantly adjusting and they along with the coaches need to be given much credit. Our game’s better and while many of the techniques that don’t belong in our game are out, we still have work to do in that area.”

Rick McKay

As Troy said, Competition Committee-wise, we’ve always started at the first place which is with club survey. Faithful football fans want to hear what is important to them. And also what they think is in the game that needs addressing and we did that this year. We met with Madden coach’s subcommittee, the NCAA, the NFLPA. We spent a lot of time in trying to look at the game.

“This year, I know you’ve seen the stat and probably written it, the margin of victory per game was 10.23 points. Only twice has it been smaller than it was this year, in 1935 and 1932. That is a very good stat from a competitive standpoint. Six out of the eight divisions in the NFL have new champions this year. We had at least four teams qualify that weren’t in the postseason the previous year. That’s the 27th consecutive year since introducing the 12-team playoff format. Competitively on the field, we feel very good about where the game is. We’re right where we’ve been  at 45.55 points per game and that is a good place for us. We have 700 yards per game. That’s a lot of yards and certainly a top-five in yardage. Penalties were down to a 15.93.  The stats are good. We have seven playing rules changes proposed by clubs and eight Competition Committee playing rules proposals. We have a couple bylaw proposals which are really player personnel-driven. We have points of emphasis which we’ll cover with our clubs when they get to Phoenix next week.”

Dean Blandino

One player safety change that may garner a lot of discussion is the jumper, the leaper, on field goals and extra points. It is being proposed to eliminate that technique which will prevent a player from crossing the line of scrimmage to block a field goal or an extra point.

“The touchback at the 25, which was in a trial period for the 2016 season, was well received. The committee was pleased with the results. Touchbacks were up, we had the lowest rate of return in NFL history at 39.3% of kickoffs returned. The committee is proposing to keep that for another year, gather more data, and re-evaluate after the 2017 season. Permanently placing the unsportsmanlike conduct automatic ejection rule, which was also a one-year proposal for 2016, is proposed.”

The defenseless player protection is being expanded to include a receiver running a route.

“We looked at a lot of video of receivers that were in a defenseless posture; whether tracking the quarterback or looking back for the ball; that were forcibly contacted by a defender in the head or neck area. That would now become a foul, even in the legal five-yard chuck zone. While a defender could still make contact, they cannot go to the head or neck area. This continues to provide players with protection from being forcibly hit in that region.”

I think the two replay changes will garner a lot of attention. One will give New York, designated members of the officiating department; myself and my supervisory staff; the final say over replay decisions, with the referee’s input.

“I think it is important to remember that we are not taking the referee out of the equation here. The referee will still be involved and give input, but they will not have final say. The way that the referee views the play will change. We will be moving from the sideline under the hood monitor to handheld tablet device. The referee will be able to view the play on the sideline without the necessity of walking to the wall to go under a hood.”

That leads me to pace of game and those two changes; which are subject to a vote; as part of an initiative to reduce downtime. We’re not looking to impact the play on the field, but reduce in-game downtime. Those two rules changes would be removing the sideline monitor and New York making the final decision.

“There will be several mechanics changes we will implement. Those include standardizing the clock start after a player goes out of bounds outside five and outside two. We’ll allow the referee to make his replay announcements during television breaks to improve game pace. We feel that will also improve the in-game, in-stadium fan experience while reducing overall replay delay. We will institute a 40-second play clock after an extra point. This is a period of time we can be more efficient and get the teams on the field for a kickoff. We’re also looking into other ways to be efficient in more discretionary areas of game administration. This includes getting in and out of TV breaks, penalty enforcements, replay administration, and just being as efficient as possible.”

The last thing is standardizing halftime length.

“Halftime is currently twelve minutes, but there is built in delay time that involves getting the teams to the locker room and the infrastructure of our stadiums and how they’re configured. We will do away with those discretionary periods and have a standardized clock set to 13 minutes and 30 seconds. At the end of that period, the ball will be made ready for play for the second half kickoff.”

That’s just kind of a summary of some of the pace of game initiatives.

Q & A Session

Will the jumper rule curtail athletic ability and how far will the league go in the regard?

McKay responds that it will go as far as it needs to from a player safety standpoint.

“We’re not going to put players in a position in which we think there is an unreasonable risk of injury. In our case, this was a rule that was proposed by Philadelphia. When we met with the NFLPA it was a rule that certainly caught their attention. They favored it right from the outset given what they felt like was a danger to the player, to the leaper, and the risk of injury. The NCAA quickly passed this rule. I don’t know if it has been confirmed yet, but it is in the passing stage and they’re doing the same thing.When we see a technique in our game; athletic or non-athletic; that is a danger to the player, we try to as a league respond by a rule limiting that danger.”

Regarding the Brice Butler 12-man penalty going forward:

Blandino responds that they discussed it and obviously, it is a penalty you don’t see very frequently.

“We looked at some of the language in the book and we’re going to give our officials just more latitude to warn a team if they feel like this is a potential issue and then penalize after a warning. There’s language in the book that allows for a change in a coaching decision where a player or a group of players may come onto the field and then there’s a change in the decision and then they go off the field without participating in a play. We want to maintain a team’s ability to do that, so we did discuss it and look at the language and we feel comfortable with the referee giving a warning if he feels a team is trying to manipulate the situation allowing the defense to matchup in that situation and only penalizing if there is a subsequent act after a warning.”

Regarding suspensions or ejections on illegal hits and overtime length:

McKay begins response by that on the suspensions, certain types of hits will be covered with the NFLPA and with the membership next week.

“We just want to show some plays that we think have no place in our game and therefore should result in suspension and/or ejection if it’s seen on the field and can be called. As opposed to I think sometimes people get caught up in the idea that a player should be warned and then there should be progressive enforcement. In this case, these are plays we just don’t want in our game and our feeling is if suspension is an option and you show those plays to players, we’ve seen them really conform to rule changes and we think this will help us even more conform to not having these types of plays in our game. So, that’s the purpose of that.”

McKay states with respect to overtime. Also, limiting overtime the proposal to limit overtime to 10 minutes in the preseason and regular season is simply a player safety issue.

“We had a couple games this year that went full length. I think three, one got a field goal right before the game expired and two were tied. I think we looked at the number of snaps and felt like it was excessive. It was excessive in the point it concerns us that we don’t know when the team is going to play next week after this in the regular season and in the preseason. It could be four days later. Accordingly, we just felt we should put an end to it. We don’t think it’ll lead to more ties. Could it? It could. Are we concerned about that? No, we’re more concerned about player safety.”

What kinds of hits would be included in suspensions and will replay be needed for it:

McKay begins his response by stating that the same standard applied for ejections that’s been in the book for a long time remains in the book.

“The officials have always had that ability. We’re not trying to change that rule or change that emphasis. Therefore, we don’t think we have to involve replay in that decision. We’re as focused on the idea that if these plays occur that we empower the league office and with good notice to the NFLPA and the players that these are the types of hits that can lead to and should lead to suspension.”

Changes to concussion protocol and are there any proposals regarding expanded replay review:

Blandino states yes, on the first part, on ATC spotter, there won’t be any change on concussion protocol, but adding the ability for both teams to review video simultaneously.

“So there will be a second system on both teams, because we have had situations where you have to wait. Maybe one team is looking at a different injury and there is a delay time. So we’re going to eliminate that potential, so both teams can view video of injury or potential injury simultaneously.”

He continued by stating that there are two replay proposals right now. One Philadelphia withdrew. But there are two proposals, one from Buffalo and Seattle, and another from Washington that involves replay.

“They revolve around increasing the number of challenges that a team can have. And then the other significant change in the Buffalo-Seattle proposal would be allowing a coach to challenge any officiating decision, which would include a foul that is called or a foul that is not called. And so, that is a significant change to our current replay rule, and it is something that will be on the floor, and be debated and voted on next week.”

Clarify, was this a joint proposal by Buffalo and Seattle:

Blandino responded that yes, that was correct.

Regarding whether moving the extra point back is permanent rule:

McKay answered that it is in fact a permanent rule and that it became permanent last year.

“I think I was looking into stats earlier, I think, three years ago, before the rule, I think we had eight extra points that were missed. I think we then went into the seventies as far as missed extra points last year, and then this past season I think it went into the eighties. So clearly the play has become more competitive. There is a risk element with it as far as success goes.”

Did the Patriots submit any proposals and the player safety issue specific to the jumper and what would lead to elimination:

McKay stated that the deadline for club proposals had passed and they had not received any proposals from the Patriots.

Regarding the player safety issue specific to the jumper, McKay stated that he thinks the issue is how it is being defensed at this point, whether it’s the snapper or guard raising up in an attempt to make contact with the jumper.

“We’ve seen several examples where the players have been flipped over, land on their head, their neck, and a potential for serious injury is certainly increased when you have a player in a vulnerable position, who’s now going to be knocked off balance and really can’t control the way they land. So I think that’s probably the biggest thing and we have seen that on tape as to why the proposal will be voted on.”

Vincent added to McKay’s response stating that they’ve heard from coaches.

“They’re now coaching to defend the leaper, which really could create a real safety issue with that defender coming down and now jumping over. So the inevitable is going to happen, and just hearing from the players association, Philly now proposing it is really in the best interest of the game.”

How often the hits garnering suspension actually occur:

McKay gives players credit and says that they do not occur very often.

“We have 40,000 plays in a year. We’ll show a tape next week that will have, you know, four or five of the plays that we would say warrant suspension. So this is not a widespread situation. This is a situation where there are certain plays in our game that we want to get out of the game, and we just want to make sure that the players are put on notice that if we see these types of actions occur, then they could be subject to suspension.”

Vincent adds that these are catastrophic plays.

“When they happen, they’re very few, but the end result, we had one player last year that did not return for the season, two, I’m sorry, that didn’t return for the season. So they’re high impact plays, they belong out of the game. And when we see it, we have to enforce it and it’s going to be a real point of emphasis this season coming.”

Which teams submitted proposals and how much thought, if any, has been given to college OT format:

McKay states that there are seven proposals from teams, but he will not go into detail since that information is being released this afternoon.

“Philadelphia had one about protection of the long snapper, Philadelphia had one about the leaping, Philadelphia had one about expansion of crowning the helmet, Philadelphia had one about instant replay, Washington had one about replay challenges, Washington has one that is about the touchback, and changing the yard line, and then you have the expansion of replay by Buffalo and Seattle.”

Regarding the college overtime format, McKay states that they’ve discussed college overtime rules in the past and they are not considering it.

“I think our position has always been we like to play it like a traditional game, with traditional field position and everything else at play. And so we’ve never really, seriously had any momentum behind going to a college system, at least I’ve never really heard it discussed where there’s any momentum for that proposal.”

Regarding both teams getting a possession even if one team scores on the first OT possession:

Blandino answers by stating that it has been discussed and they went to a modified rule about a field goal on the first possession not ending the game.

“I think the committee and many of us at the league want to preserve the idea of sudden death and that the game can still end on any one play. I think that’s important as we look at this rule and we still have that sudden death aspect of it and if you did change it to both teams getting a possession even in a touchdown situation still having an opportunity you lose that sudden death aspect, which the committee and many at the league feel is very important.”

Is there a certain time-frame of games goal with pace of play rules:

Blandino states that the goal is not to reduce game length, but to become more efficient and reduce in-game downtime.

“We feel like if we can reduce some of that in-game downtime then the overall game time will take care of itself. Our games averaged just over three hours and seven minutes, that was down from the number in 2015. We expect that there will be a reduction in game time based on some of these changes, but the focus is in-game downtime, being more efficient, and the entire game experience whether it’s in the stadium or watching at home on TV.”

The goal for reducing celebration penalties:

Vincent states that they want players to celebrate and be spontaneous and less flags thrown.

“There are some things as we administrate the game, we gotta have some fine lines. We think clear examples are best not only for our officials, but for our players and our coaches. We’ve talked extensively about what’s prolonged and what’s excessive, going on the ground, what’s acceptable and what’s not. There are some acts we all know that don’t belong in our game. We want our players, we encourage our players, and as a former player I understand the spontaneous nature of a big play and wanting to be excited and have fun with your teammates. We just want to make sure that the things that don’t belong in our game, we keep them out. Frankly, we want our officials officiating the game, not throwing flags because of guys celebrating. You’re not going to see any rule changes. We want to clarify and bring clarity for all.”

Plans for Thursday Night Football to continue:

Vincent makes note that he has not heard any plans to phase out Thursday Night Football.

“Its been a part of our game for quite some time. You hear a difference in opinions sometimes, you hear a player talking about recovery time, but we’ve had success on Thursday Night Football. There has been talk of potentially adding a bye after the Thursday night game, but there hasn’t been any talk of eliminating it.”

McKay says that every year they do look at injury statistics to see if injuries occur at a higher rate among players on four days’ rest.

“The answer from the statistics for the last five years has been no. The injury rate for those Thursday night games has been less. That doesn’t get to the quality debate. That will always be there when a game stands out on its own like a Thursday night game does, but as far as injury and safety, the numbers have not supported that there is a difference or is at a higher injury rate.”

Procedure if there is more than one replay review going on at the same time:

Blandino tells us that it is something that has been being dealt with since going to this model where New York is involved.

“We have multiple people; myself, Al Riveron, and one of our officiating supervisors; so there are three people that can get involved in the decision-making process. We have a game monitor that is assigned to an individual game that will call things to our attention. We’ve been managing that process for the last three years and we feel comfortable that we can continue to do that in the early window with multiple games going on and having multiple reviews happening at the same time. Again, with the referees still being involved in the process it tends to work itself out during that window.”

McKay states that one thing the committee likes about the centralized proposal is that they have coaches and fans that all want one thing from officiating, consistency.

“We have found that since we’ve gone to the centralized model we feel like we are getting better consistency from call to call and what the expectations are on what will be reversed and what will not be reversed, and we think this system furthers that, with the idea that you always want the referee involved because the referee is on the field, is a rules expert, and should have some discussion in the procedure. We think this model works best and gives us a chance to speed the process up, while giving us consistency in the outcome.”

 

 

 

 

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