Transcript of a Wednesday afternoon conference call among Rich McKay, Atlanta Falcons president & CEO and NFL Competition Committee chairman; Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice president of football operations; Jeff Fisher, St. Louis Rams head coach and Competition Committee member; Greg Aiello, senior vice president of communications; and reporters:
Troy Vincent: I will begin by saying I am excited about returning to the field of play. It’s been a long six years and I know I have an opportunity to continue to be a contributor as we advance our game. I’m looking forward to, with David Gardi, advancing our game as we look at the current game and the future. I’m looking forward to working with the Competition Committee as we advance our game. Again, I am excited and extremely grateful to still be a contributor to our wonderful game.
Rich McKay: I’ll start in the usual place, which is telling you a little bit of how we got to the agenda that sets up the Competition Committee report, which will be passed out to the membership Monday after the general session overview in the morning. The agenda is really formed by you, the media, and what gets talked about, written about and bubbles up to the surface during the season itself, followed by the surveys.
This year I think the actual number of surveys we ended up with was probably around 80 surveys that got returned to us. Those are given to coaches, general managers, presidents, owners. We get a lot of them. We also then meet with Coach [John] Madden’s subcommittee. We go through their issues and the issues they want us to vet and then also talk to them about the issues we’re looking at and then we meet with the players association. That’s kind of the process. That takes us to Indianapolis, where we meet for five days and then later to Naples, where we begin to write the report.
Before talking about 2014, we’ll talk about 2013 just for a second. I think 2013, the basic measures of the game, were really good. It was a very good year for the game on the field. From a competitive balance standpoint, we had five teams qualify for the playoffs in 2013 that did not qualify in 2012. That is the 24th-consecutive year we’ve had at least four new teams qualify, which is a good statistic for competitive balance. This year we have 18 games in which teams overcame a 14-point deficit, which is tying the all-time NFL record which was set in 2011. I think the stat that usually stands out the most to us on competitive balance is we had 48 percent of our games, the fourth-most in NFL history, decided by seven or fewer points. From a competitive balance standpoint, we feel very good about where the game was in 2013 and where it’s been for a good long time now.
To look at a couple of stats, we had 46.82 points per game — that’s the all-time NFL record. We had 697 yards per game — that’s the all-time NFL record. Despite those two offensive statistics, the top five teams in total defense — Seattle, Carolina, Cincinnati, New Orleans and San Francisco — all qualified for the playoffs and all won at least 11 games, again establishing that defense does matter.
On Monday, we’ll distribute the Competition Committee report. There are 13 playing rules that will be presented to the membership and there are seven bylaws that will be presented to the membership and one resolution that will all be presented through the Competition Committee — not all written by or proposed by the Competition Committee, but those are the ones that will be discussed in our report.
Greg Aiello: We’ll just go through all of these proposals and then we’ll go to your questions. These first seven are from Washington and New England. The first three are from Washington.
The first one is Washington proposing to move the kickoff to the 40-yard line for safety and historic consistency reasons. The second proposal from Washington is to expand instant replay to include personal foul penalties. The third one from Washington is to eliminate overtime periods in preseason games for player safety reasons.
The next four are proposals from New England. The first one is to extend the goalpost an additional five feet above the crossbar. The reasoning for this proposal is definitive rulings cannot be made on many field goal tries that cross over the top of the goalpost. The next proposal from New England is to move the line of scrimmage for extra points to the defensive team’s 25-yard line in order to make the point after a more competitive play. The next one from New England is to put fixed cameras on all boundary lines — the sideline, end line and end zone — to supplement the TV cameras and to guarantee coverage of those lines for replay no matter where the TV cameras are located. The final rule proposal from New England is to permit a coach to challenge any official’s decision, except scoring plays, to make more extensive use of the replay system. Those are proposals 1 through 7.
McKay: I have playing rule proposal No. 8, which is a player safety rule. All it does is extend — we granted what we call "roll-up" protection or protection from players rolling up the back of a player’s legs — we’re going to extend that protection from the back to the sides. It really just takes Rule 12, Section 2, Article 1 and inserts the two words that say "or side" right next to where it says the blocker cannot roll up on the back of the legs of a defender. It will now say “roll up on the back or side of the legs of a defender.” We saw some plays on tape that we just felt we needed to expand that protection.
Jeff Fisher: Playing rule proposal No. 9 submitted by the Competition Committee is going to allow the referee to consult with members of the NFL officiating department during replay reviews. It’s not going to change the process. The process will be the same. The replay review will be initiated by the booth, depending on what happens on the field, or by the coach. The referee will go to the booth and talk to the observer, but during that process, our command center in New York headed by Dean Blandino will already be reviewing the play. At the end of the day, what’s going to happen is we’re going to make sure that every single review is correct and we feel this will speed up the instant replay process and timing.
Rule proposal No. 10 also relates to instant replay. The first thing it does is basically reorganizes Article 4. Article 4 is the list in our rulebook of all of our reviewable plays. Article 5 is a list of all of the non-reviewable plays. Dean and his staff have done a great job reorganizing and cleaning up Article 4 so it makes sense because we were adding things to replay here and there over the last few years. It just makes sense as an easier read. The second part of rule proposal No. 10 is going to include the recovery of a loose ball in the field of play. For example, the [NaVorro] Bowman play this year. Our current system does not include that. When the ball is ruled dead, it is dead. It is not reviewable. Now under this rule, as long as the ball is in the field of play and there is a clear recovery in the field of play, then the play can be not only reviewed but overturned.
McKay: Playing rule proposal No. 11 is a simple clock change that would take away the stopping of the clock on a sack. We have for a long time allowed the clock to stop on a sack and then we took that away for the final two minutes, both the warning at half and at the end of the game. Now we’re going to allow the clock to continue to run on any sack.
Playing rule proposal No. 12 is a modification of the pass interference rule. The modification is eliminating the one-yard boundary. The way the rule is written, acts that do not occur more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage are not pass interference but could be defensive holding. We’ve eliminated the more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage. There are a number of plays that are occurring and involve either rub routes or kick routes and the intent of this is to move the pass interference line to the line of scrimmage.
Fisher: Proposal No. 13 is a penalty enforcement proposal that involves defensive fouls behind the line of scrimmage, not across the line of scrimmage. There are a number of things taking place as far as enforcement is concerned. It can be confusing, but I’ll give you an example. Let’s say we have a facemask penalty by a defensive player on the quarterback, and the quarterback still escapes and he is tackled 2 yards short of the line of scrimmage. The officiating department has to decide where the spot is to enforce the penalty to where it most benefits the offense. In this case, it would be at the end of the run.
We have other instances that involve change of possession and so on and so forth. Basically, this proposal No. 13 is going to simplify everything, clean it all up; make sure we don’t have any issues. We have a lot of conferences and there are a lot of things that can happen with the enforcement. When it’s all said and done, we’re going to enforce from the previous spot rather than the end of the run or the spot of the foul. We think it really cleans things up from a rule enforcement standpoint.
Aiello: We have seven bylaw proposals and I will go through the first six quickly. The first five are from Washington. Washington is proposing to raise the number of active-list players from 46 to 49 for regular-season games played on days other than Sunday or Monday, excluding the opening weekend of the season. Again, raise the active list for gameday from 46 to 49 for games played on days other than Sunday or Monday, for player safety reasons.
Bylaw proposal No. 2, again from Washington, would raise the practice squad limit from eight to 10 players, also for player safety reasons.
Bylaw proposal No. 3, from Washington, would permit clubs to trade players prior to the start of the league year. The thinking would be to give players under contract the chance to earn their current contract rather than being cut.
Bylaw proposal No. 4, from Washington, would eliminate the roster cutdown to 75 and have just one cutdown to 53; for player safety and player development reasons.
Bylaw proposal No. 5, again from Washington, would permit more than one player to return to the active list from injured reserve during the season. In other words, any player on injured reserve could return after six weeks on IR to the active list to provide more roster flexibility.
Bylaw proposal No. 6 is from Philadelphia. It would permit each club to time and test, at its facility, 10 players who attended the Combine and permit clubs to attend any timing or testing at another club’s facility that involves three or more draft-eligible players.
Fisher: Proposal No. 7, from the committee, would adjust the time of roster reduction to 53, after the fourth preseason game, on Saturday. Adjust it from 6 p.m. ET to 4 p.m. ET. All teams have to have their lists in by 4 p.m. ET. We think it makes the final cutdown much more efficient on the front end. There is plenty of time. The West Coast teams have time to get their lists in. On the back end we have more time to go through our potential waivers. This is only if there is no Friday preseason games [in the final week]. I think everybody has gone to Thursday now. If there is a Friday preseason game we would push it back to 6 p.m.
Aiello: The final item is a resolution submitted by Indianapolis for a potential vote. It would permit the home team, with a retractable roof [or wall], to open the closed roof and/or wall at halftime. Submitted by Indianapolis. Now we have run through all of the rule changes and proposals so we will take your questions.
On if the committee has ever considered review or challenge of defensive pass interference...
McKay: Yes, we have considered that before. We’ve always shied away, as a committee, from penalties and the review of penalties for the most basic reason. We didn’t want to put the referee in the position of using his subjective judgment on a play in place of the on-field official. We always thought the intent of replay, when it was put back in in 1998, was to deal with plays where there was an objective standard. There was a line, there was a goal line, there was a knee down, there were two feet down or whatever that objective standard may be and to stay away from the subjective aspect of the plays like penalties. So we have not gone down that path but we have discussed it numerous times.
Fisher: We have had further discussion on it as it relates to Washington’s proposal and New England’s proposal as far as penalties are concerned.
On playoff expansion and a proposed ban on racial slurs...
McKay: We have positions in the book. We have a bunch of things in what we’ll call the back of the book that include points of emphasis. They include positions. They include clarifications.
With respect to expansion of the playoffs and last year’s report, if you went back and looked at it you would see we took a position on expanded playoffs and you would see we supported expanded playoffs. Likewise, we have gone back and looked at that position and rewritten that position and put it in the back of the book. I wouldn’t want to give it to you verbatim or where we stand with respect to it, although I think last year’s might give you an indication. But it will be distributed to the members on Monday.
With respect to racial slurs, we do have a section in the book that deals with sportsmanship. It addresses the use of abusive, threating 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 and deals with your specific question.
On a proposal and vote at the upcoming meetings regarding playoff expansion...
McKay: You won’t see it from the Competition Committee because we’ve made our proposals. The only thing that would happen with respect to our proposals is if we amended a bylaw. I don’t know if it couldn’t come from another place or another committee, but it wouldn’t be our committee.
Aiello: There will be a report on the potential of expanded playoffs. It’s on the agenda. But we do not know if there would be any sort of vote at this meeting.
On proposal to raise goalposts...
McKay: Basically the way we’ve always worked is we don’t give our positions on rules until those clubs have been given an opportunity, in front of the membership, to talk about the proposal and give their reasoning behind the proposal. Typically that takes place on Tuesday morning. Then Wednesday, or whenever the vote is going to be, we give our position on that proposal. We don’t typically do that in advance. We don’t in any way want to affect the club’s opportunity to explain their reasoning behind the proposal or in any way affect the vote that may occur with respect to it.
On moving PATs further back...
Fisher: We discussed this. We discussed a lot of different scenarios that have been raised, different options to it. I will point out, I don’t know how many kicks we had, but last year we had five tries missed. I think four were blocked, one was missed. It’s still a competitive play. We are going to propose this weekend to the membership during one of the preseason weeks that we move the extra point back to the 20-yard line and see how that goes. It’s on our radar. But we obviously didn’t do anything specific with respect to a proposal.
McKay: Not that I want to give you everybody’s perspective, it was interesting in the survey [from teams] there were many different views with respect to the extra point. It’s clearly been debated. I think the statistics are 1,267 extra points tried and 1,262 made. So I think there is that thought that with the extra point you need to add a little more skill in to it. 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, some of which you have described — the seven-point option, the go-for-two option. But if you want to stay with the traditional scoring, which is seven basically for a touchdown, six and a one-point, three for a field goal, two for a safety, then you’ve got to think about the fact that you want the one point still in the game.
Aiello: Just to make sure everyone is clear on it, the idea for the preseason would be for all games in one preseason weekend to have the 20-yard extra point.
McKay: It depends on how the debate goes with respect to the New England proposal and where that may go. But if that proposal was not to prevail, then the idea would be should we experiment and look at something differently with respect to the extra point rule?
On if the touchback percentage would increase if the kickoffs were moved to the 40...
Fisher: The proposal to move the kickoff to the 40, that is a Washington proposal, so as Rich said earlier, we are going to withhold our opinions and all specifics related to that.
On if two-point conversion tries would also move back to the 20 if the PAT attempts are moved...
Fisher: There is not a current proposal to move the ball back to the 20. It is just one of those options that has been discussed. We are going to let the other clubs talk about it. We cannot predict the numbers. It is very hard to predict.
McKay: With New England’s proposal on the extra points, their proposal would be that it would go to the 25 if you are going to try for one or it goes from the 2-yard line if you are going to try for two.
On if there would be a new rule banning racial slurs or if it is part of a current rule...
Fisher: As we mentioned earlier, we have the current rule, unsportsmanlike conduct, Rule 12, Section 3. It states that "Using abusive, threatening or insulting language, or gestures to opponents, teammates, officials or representatives of the league is unsportsmanlike conduct." The N-word would fall under that category. The officials will be empowered to call a foul if there are racial slurs or statements regarding another player’s sexual orientation, or even baiting and insulting with verbal abuse. It falls under that. It is going to be a very significant point of emphasis.
McKay: I think to your latter point, too, is that we will take the time — Dean Blandino and his office with Troy’s input — to make sure we educate the players, coaches, officials, media and everyone on how the rule will be enforced this year so that it is very clear. It will be done in the spring when the officiating department goes on the road to see all of the clubs.
On if an officiating representative at the league office could contact officials at game sites when a wrong call is made but has not been challenged by a coach at the game...
McKay: The proposal is just tied to replay. That is all it is tied to. In the proposal, one of the things we are trying to achieve is consistency and efficiency. You will have three-way communication between the replay official that is in the stadium, New York central command, and wireless headset communication to the referee. We are hoping that helps speed up the process for purposes of the referee and looking at the appropriate shot in replay. It is tied to replay.
On the idea behind proposing more flexibility with opening and closing retractable roofs...
Aiello: The idea is that if the weather is poor prior to the game and you have the roof closed, and then it clears up and is nice outside and nice to open it for the fans and teams, then you can open it at halftime. It is a fan experience, fan engagement proposal for teams with retractable roofs.
On if the overall level of sportsmanship has declined over the years and how important that is to other coaches you have spoken to on this issue...
Fisher: A lot of this is going to be in the report you will get this weekend. We have had discussions with coaches, with the coaches committee, with the players association, etc. It is a significant point of emphasis for us this year. 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.
McKay: I would say to Jeff’s point with respect to taunting, we had nine calls for taunting in 2012. I think the number was 34 in 2013.
On if Dolphins owner Steve Ross’ proposal to fund renovations will be a talking point at the annual meeting in Orlando...
Aiello: The Dolphins stadium renovations are not on the agenda. Whether Steve Ross decides to report on it briefly for the ownership would be up to him.
On which cities will be invited to bid on the next Super Bowl that is available...
Aiello: The next Super Bowl to be awarded will happen in May. The candidate cities are Indianapolis, Minnesota and New Orleans.
On which extra point suggestions have generated the most debate and what the process is if one of those suggestions starts to get more traction than the 25-yard line proposal...
McKay: These things traditionally take time. It is good this discussion is being had with respect to the extra point. It is what we do. When we looked at the overtime rule and the discussion that went on, that was a number of years before that rule really was changed. We ended up with pretty good results when you look at the statistics from the change.
With the extra point, a seven-point proposal has been talked about and brought up in a survey by a number of clubs. The idea of putting the yard line back to maybe the 20 or the 25 has been talked about. Those are probably the core ones. There have been some other suggestions that have been mailed in. We look at every suggestion we get and some of those were a little different, such as you kick from whatever yard line you score from. I thought that was unique. There have been a lot of different ones, but the core ones have been the seven points, if you do not want the seven points, you tell them you are going to go for two, and moving the kick back and adding a little more skill to it, to either the 20 or 25.
On shrinking the goalposts...
McKay: That is a good point. Narrowing the goalposts. We have talked about that a lot this year. That is a good point. We have looked at it and I think it will be something that will be talked about a lot going forward. Really, that discussion gets a little past the extra point and starts getting to the actual field goal statistics themselves. We are at a place where field goals are made 86.6 percent of the time — which is really an amazing thing because in 1970 that number was around 59 percent. We have really moved up. We have had some really good discussions about that. I do not think there is enough momentum to do it this year, but I think there will be discussions with the goalpost going forward.
On the quality of officiating during the 2013 season...
McKay: I don’t think I am one that is going to say, well, it was the best year ever or the worst year ever. I am not sure if that is ever appropriate. The scrutiny, though, that our officials are under is truly unbelievable, when you realize the calls get complained about, when they are put in micro-slow motion, frame by frame, and the official on the field just doesn’t have that opportunity. So I think overall, our officials do an awfully good job with an awfully tough standard to meet.
I do believe that with Troy’s leadership and with Dean Blandino and Al Riveron, I think you are going to see a real emphasis on trying to be the best we can be and trying to make sure that there is all the necessary training, the discussion of full-time officials, whatever it may be. Whatever needs to be done in the future, I think this group is prepared to do. But I don’t think it should be that every year is evaluated on "how we did this year" because quite frankly, it is just not a fair standard. Because, as you point out, too many times it comes down to one or two plays that are all of a sudden going to define a body of work in which we have 40,000 plays a year.
On the percentage of correct calls out of the 40,000 plays...
McKay: I don’t even know that we have sat down — Jeff, I can’t remember the discussion of where we are. Usually if you ask the officiating department and you go through that, we don’t necessarily have the time to look at 40,000 plays. We would probably go crazy before we got there. But I think you would find that they are going to find a very, very high percentage in the way upper 90 percent range for calls that they get right, but I also don’t know if that is necessarily how you judge officiating. I think you do it by the consistency, you do it by feedback from the membership. There are a lot of ways to look at officiating. I just believe that at times we are holding them to an unrealistic standard because of the fact that calls are reviewed in a way that they don’t get to call the game.
On if there should be more emphasis on clubs being told to accept the calls...
Fisher: I think the communication right now between the clubs, the head coach and the officiating department is as good as it has ever been. I echo Rich’s sentiment as it relates to our leadership in Troy and Dean and Al — we're excited about the future of this. I have been very, very fortunate to have been on this committee for a number of years and I see this aspect of our game, as the game moves on, it becomes more difficult. But I see improvement in the department and as coaches we are striving to win a championship. Dean and his group are striving for consistency. That is their goal. I would say last year I thought was a success on the field.
On if the two-point conversion would also be at the 20 in that proposal:
McKay: No, at the 2. Any proposal that is going to move — well, I shouldn’t say any proposal, I don’t speak for everybody else that may have a proposal — but the majority of proposals that you would see that would move the extra point back would always have the two-point option at the 2-yard line. You are not trying to take away that aspect of the game. You are trying to leave that aspect of the game the same. We don’t have fake extra points. They just don’t really exist in our game. So most two-point plays are purposeful two-point plays, almost all of them are, amazingly at a high success rate of almost 50 percent — which is a big move. But I think in any proposal it would remain at the two.