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Rules changes pass; league focused on safety, fan enjoyment

Posted Mar 29, 2012

SAN DIEGO – NFL owners approved five rule changes Wednesday, including adopting the recent playoff overtime format for the regular season.

The change softens “sudden death” because teams no longer can win overtime games by winning the coin toss and making a field goal on the ensuing drive. Teams still can invoke “sudden death” by winning the toss and scoring a touchdown.

The league also ratified automatic replay reviews following turnovers, similar to what the NFL first did for scoring plays during the 2011 season. Teams no longer will have to challenge turnovers or scoring plays.

Other changes included making too many men on the field a dead ball foul (closing a bit of a loophole discovered during Super Bowl XLVI), affording crackback block recipients (defensive players) protection under the “defenseless player” rules, and adding loss of down to the penalty for kicking a loose ball (a rare occurrence).

Proposals to push back the trade deadline and change the injured reserve designation were not part of the vote and likely will be considered at a later date.

A proposal to apply the horse-collar rule to quarterbacks in the pocket did not pass. That scenario will remain an exception to horse-collar penalties.

LEAGUE INITIATIVES: The NFL remains focused on player safety and finding ways to continue to add value to the fan experience, Commissioner Roger Goodell said Monday at the owner’s meetings in Palm Beach, Fla.

The league invited 19 people to the meetings to form a first-ever fan panel, offering perspective to Goodell and the 32 teams.

“It was the first time we did it,” Goodell said. “One of our keys going forward (is) respecting our fans, valuing our fans, listening to our fans and making sure that we’re responsive to what they are interested in.

“It’s not just providing more access and more information. They care about the game and they have a very important perspective. They did a terrific job of articulating themselves. They each had a very strong view. They heard some perspective back from many of the owners, coaches and general managers.”

Goodell said fans told him the integrity of the game is their top priority, and the league wants to continue fan panels at future owner’s meetings.

The owners and league executives also met to discuss stadium initiatives Wednesday, including fan conduct and stadium security. The dialogue aimed toward making the game-day experience safer.

The NFL’s penalties levied against those involved with the “bounty” program in New Orleans are part of a continued overall effort to change the league’s culture in favor of better player safety, Goodell said. The league is reminding teams that “pay for performance” programs of any kind are not permissible, though an investigation has not discovered any similar “bounty” funds so far.

The NFL and NFL Players Association are in a continued dialogue on HGH testing as well as several concussion issues.

The two sides agree to this point, placing an independent neurologist on the sideline is not likely to improve player safety. The NFL and NFLPA feel “medical judgments (by team doctors) are not an issue … we just need a medical judgments to be made,” Goodell said. The NFL added medically trained spotters during the season who sit in a booth at stadiums and identify players who need medical evaluations, though the NFL continues to encourage players to self-seek medical attention when appropriate.

“I think we’ve continued to make progress. We obviously want to make more progress. We’re going to continue to look at rules that can make the game safer,” Goodell said. “There are still some things we think we can do to take certain techniques out of the game to make it safer.

“It’s part of a culture change. But I think the game is safer and I think our players appreciate it. I think our coaches appreciate it. And I know our fans appreciate it, because I heard from them today about it.”
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