NFL Owners Meetings Bring Changes, but Fail to Do Anything Meaningful

Michael Schottey@SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterMarch 26, 2014

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answers questions during a news conference at the NFL football annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., Wednesday, March 26, 2014. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
John Raoux/Associated Press

No one does a better job of majoring in minors than the NFL owners. 

My father—since departed—used to hammer that phrase into me whenever I was tasked with a chore or project and seemed to get hung up on the details (long before Sugarcult turned it into a song). The adage means one is getting caught up in the minutia of a situation rather than focusing on the big picture of things that should be dealt with. 

The NFL, a multibillion-dollar business, majors in minors seemingly more than any major corporation or professional sport. 

At the annual owners' meetings in Orlando, Fla. (at the lovely Ritz-Carlton), the owners hobnob and discuss the major problems related to the game. This year, that meant an appearance from Dov Seidman—an expert on corporate culture. Of course, that's a direct result from the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin bullying incident in Miami.

Wade Davis, a gay former player, also spoke to the owners as they prepare for Missouri pass-rusher Michael Sam to become the first openly gay player in the NFL. 

The owners also vote on rules proposals set forth by the competition committee and suggested by teams. Rules can range from anything on roster management and limits to on-the-field play. This year, six rules were passed (via multiple sources, collected nicely by Pro Football Talk) and many more were either tabled or rejected. 

The rules passed were as follows:

  • Extend the uprights to make them five feet taller.
  • Protect players from getting the sides of their legs rolled up on — the rule already says a blocker can’t hit an opponent in the back of the legs, this proposal will add “or side” to the rule.
  • Allow the referee to consult with members of the NFL officiating department during replay reviews. The referee would be able to speak with the command center in New York to help in reviewing a play. 
  • Re-organize the rules about what can be reviewed and what cannot be reviewed, including making the recovery of a loose ball in the field of play reviewable.
  • Don’t stop the clock on a sack. 
  • Enforce defensive fouls behind the line of scrimmage from the previous spot, rather than from the end of the run or from the spot of the foul. 

The NFL also altered one bylaw: Adjust the time of the roster reduction from 53 after the fourth preseason game from 6 p.m. Eastern to 4 p.m. Eastern. All teams would have to have their list of final cuts in by 4 p.m. 

This preseason, the league will also experiment tinkering with extra points (via CBS), moving them to the 20-yard line. It's a change that almost no one really wanted—or even thought about, previous to the NFL deciding to tinker with it. 

If, after reading those, you're yawning uncontrollably or wondering why the heck those weren't rules already, you're not alone. The NFL had some chances to effect real change this offseason, and failed to do anything of real meaning. 

Don't get me wrong. I think the centralized review process is a great start, but if the final call is still going to the man on the field, the step isn't big enough. I also appreciate the protection of players' legs, but worry that it's going to be another difficult judgement call for referees. 

Bleacher Report colleague Gary Davenport did a great job calling out the referees themselves recently, because anything less than aiming for better officiating overall is simply a patchwork fix to cover the bigger problem—NFL officiating stinks and is far too uneven to consider it a level playing field. 

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

When referees barely know what constitutes a catch, neither do coaches, announcers, fans or even receivers. It hurts the game and it's just one of the major issues that could have been taken up by the owners and no clarification of the rule was even set before them by the competition committee.

That's a fail. 

Meanwhile, the game is still ruled by a bunch of older gentleman and trusting in their (possibly failing) eyesight for crucial decisions. According to ESPN's K.C. Joyner, they're actually pretty bad at that—regularly spotting plays incorrectly

So, in a 21st century where the league could probably put enough sensors on the field to motion-capture the entire thing for the next Madden game (hey, there's an idea), the NFL wouldn't even accept the motion to put cameras on all the boundary lines. With cost reportedly being a factor

Yes, Virginia, the NFL will willingly charge you eight bucks for a hot dog, but won't invest in the game to make sure the plays on the field are actually, you know, correct. 

Along those same lines, they rejected allowing replay to be used for personal foul penalties and just about every other referees decision, because apparently the people who can't tell the difference between the 24- and the 25-yard lines are supposed to be able to tell the difference between the shoulder and the neck during high-speed collisions. 

Don't worry though, it's only a 15-yard penalty. It isn't like those could change games!

Detroit Lions President Tom Lewand did a good job explaining why more extensive replay is taking some time (via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press):

We put it in place in ’98 and sort of bolted onto it every year as different plays have become reviewable or different unintended consequences have become revealed throughout the course of this.

They’ve added on, obviously, scoring plays and turnovers, and we’ve made other plays that are reviewable, so we now have sort of this tax code of instant replay that’s developed over the last decade-plus, and so I think it’s time to take a fresh look at the tax code and maybe instead of looking at plays that are reviewable, maybe we start to look at which ones aren’t reviewable.

But it does require a paradigm shift, and I think we’re slowly turning the ship in the direction of a paradigm shift.

That's the crux of the issue, isn't it? The NFL owners can handle the little things that make sense to them (and don't cost money, of course), yet they have trouble really sitting down and hammering out a sensible solution.

It's why we have an NFL rule book that is a convoluted mess and why 99 percent of NFL discipline is handled with the caveat of however Roger Goodell is feeling that day. 

The NFL also tabled discussion on eliminating overtime in the preseason. How do you table that? It's useless football that no one really wants to see anyway. It's a two-second vote! You don't need months of discussion and an independent study. 

Owners like to deal with the unimportant matters but can't even bring themselves to eliminate the most unimportant thing around!

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 11: Dallas Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban watches his team face off against the Golden State Warriors on December 11, 2013 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloadin
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently called out the NFL, claiming the sport would eventually implode because of oversaturation.

While Cuban may certainly be wrong, it is narrow-focused, shortsighted and overall failure to rectify problems in the game that could eventually prove him right. 

The NFL is clearly at its popularity peak right now, but the game is far from perfect. This offseason, the owners failed to get the game anywhere closer to where its fans want it to be. They still get paid, though—to the tune of billions of dollars. 

It's a shame the owners' foresight can't outweigh their pocketbooks. 


Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff on his archive page and follow him on Twitter.


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