NFL officiating not a hot topic in formal owners meetings
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By BARRY WILNER
NEW YORK (AP) NFL officiating was not a hot topic in the formal owners meetings that ended Wednesday, Commissioner Roger Goodell noted.
"There was talk on several occasions in the context of what the competition committee is looking to propose and implement and how to adjust to those rules," Goodell said.
But there were no formal discussions on the floor during the two-day meetings.
Officiating has been a super-tense issue this season, in part because of several rules changes or points of emphasis, particularly regarding roughing the passer and helmet use in tackling.
Criticism of calls has come from almost everywhere: players, coaches, owners, media and fans. They reached a fevered pitch in September when Clay Matthews drew two flags for roughing the passer and reaction ranged from rage to describing the calls as "textbook tackles."
Overall, roughing-the-passer calls are down since the competition committee clarified to game officials the techniques used in such hits during a conference call last month. There were 34 roughing calls through the first three weeks and 19 in the three weeks since the call.
"They always want consistency," Goodell said, "but we will always have calls that are not clear. The focus of trying to protect defenseless players is something very important and we have a tremendous commitment to that."
These meetings were far from as frenetic as a year ago, when the NFL was dealing with widespread player demonstrations during the national anthem to protest social and racial injustice.
"The focus has been on the efforts the players have brought in their communities and they are working on the issues to make their communities better," he said.
A policy requiring the players to either stand on the sideline or wait in the locker room or tunnel leading to the field during "The Star-Spangled Banner" has been in limbo almost since it was unilaterally invoked by the NFL and heavily criticized by the players' union. Goodell gave no indication anything would change with that policy this year.
Goodell and many owners spoke in glowing terms about the product on the field, stressing the record-setting offenses and close games through six weeks. Goodell also boasted about NFL games being one of the "few contents that are growing" in TV audiences. Ratings are up this year.
"The safety of the game is better and the quality of the game is better," Goodell said.
He also explained that the removal of a rule barring cross-ownership of sports franchises in different markets could be a boost to the league.
Previously, while an owner could have multi-sport franchises in the same city - the Patriots' Robert Kraft owns the Revolution in MLS, for example - that was barred beyond the local region.
This change could lead to the likes of, say, a Steve Ballmer, who paid $2 billion for the NBA's Clippers, looking to own the next NFL franchise that comes onto the market. Or Kraft, for instance, purchasing another sports team outside of New England.
"This has been debated for 38 years," Goodell said. "It's about doing everything possible to attract the best ownership and to maintain the quality of ownership in the league."
The owners also were updated on the stadium situations in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, but not on where the Raiders might be playing next season. They will be leaving Oakland for Las Vegas for the 2020 season and are in negotiations for a home for 2019.
Goodell said out of respect to the family of Paul Allen that now was not the time to discuss the future ownership of the Seahawks. Allen died on Monday.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones insisted , "I can't imagine the Seahawks not in Seattle. That hasn't even been a thought."
The compensation committee, which approved Goodell's new contract last year that drew the ire of some owners, went through a change. Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was selected, while Clark Hunt of the Chiefs and Bob McNair of the Texans were removed. Also on the committee are New England's Robert Kraft, Atlanta's Arthur Blank, Pittsburgh's Art Rooney, and the Giants' John Mara.
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Updated October 17, 2018