By Vic Carucci
National Editor, NFL.com
(March 23, 2007) -- Roger Goodell seems poised to put a defining stamp on his first year as commissioner of the NFL.
Goodell has spent the past several weeks piecing together a significantly tougher player conduct policy that he could reveal during the annual league meeting scheduled to begin March 25 in Phoenix.
Under the new policy, Goodell would have the ability to level heavier punishment to players who behave badly sooner than he can now. Currently, the league waits for the legal process to take its course before implementing fines and/or suspensions.
There are two critical elements to Goodell's version of the player conduct policy.
One is timing. The NFL has had a disturbingly high number of off-field incidents, which has included:
--Adam "Pacman" Jones, cornerback for the Tennessee Titans, having 10 encounters with the law;
--Nine members of the Cincinnati Bengals being arrested;
--Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson facing a four-month jail sentence.
The other crucial component to the stronger policy is that Goodell has assembled it with the full cooperation and support of players, as well as owners, coaches and other team officials.
Tank Johnson likely faces a suspension in addition to jail time.
"What's important to him in developing this policy is that it is supported by a wide faction of people in our league, meaning the owners, the players association, the players and the clubs," NFL vice president of public relations Greg Aiello said. "He's been very encouraged by the strong stance that the players have taken in terms of looking for a more effective policy."
The universal opinion around the league is that the NFL has a great game that still enjoys continued growth in popularity and revenue. Although the transgressions have been committed by a very small percentage of players, they have commanded a great deal of attention and, as Goodell is keenly aware, they pose a real threat to the league's image.
"He has many priorities, many top priorities," Aiello said. "And that's certainly among them."
The commissioner has had little trouble gaining support from players because those who have stayed out of trouble resent the fact that merely because of their profession, they often are lumped in with players whose names show up on police blotters.
If Goodell does unveil a new player conduct policy, he is expected to do so on March 27, the third day of the meeting.
"He's looking to develop an overall comprehensive and more effective program," Aiello said. "As he puts it, one negative incident is too many for him."
Among the items on which owners will vote during the meeting include:
--Moving the kickoff in overtime from the 30-yard line, the regulation spot, to the 35. The NFL's competition committee concluded that the kickoff spot was the primary reason that 62 percent of the teams that win the coin toss for overtime end up winning the game. Until 1998, when the kickoff was moved back to the 30 and the league introduced the "K-ball," which is more difficult to kick deep, the coin toss result played little roll in the outcome of overtime games.
--Assessing a 5-yard penalty for a player spiking the ball after plays between the goal lines. Spiking after a touchdown would still be allowed. "This is an issue to us that has really shown itself in the last two years where it seems like every play, whether it's a 3-yard gain or 15 yards, results in a player stepping up and spiking the ball," said Atlanta Falcons general manager Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee. "The ball bounces 15 feet away, officials having to go run it down. We don't think it's good for sportsmanship or administration."
--Making instant replay, which is due to expire after the 2008 season, a permanent part of the playing rules. "I think it's become an accepted part of the game," McKay said. "The colleges have it now in a different form, and it's part of the way we play." Another replay matter that will be addressed, but probably not adopted, is using replay for all penalties except offensive holding. Presently, penalties are not subject to review.
--Adding a communication device for the defense that would be similar to the one that allows a coach to send plays to the quarterback via a receiver in his helmet. This proposal calls for a defensive player, as designed by the head coach before the game, to wear a receiver that would allow him to communicate with a coach. If that player has to exit the game with an injury, the defense would have to revert to the current method of receiving hand signals from the sideline.
--Applying the 15-yard college rule on defensive pass interference, with the exception of calls that are deemed as flagrant, rather than giving the offensive team possession at the spot of the foul. A flagrant foul would follow the current enforcement of spotting the ball where the penalty occurred.
--A revision of the format for official NFL injury reports. The proposal calls for the standard "out," "doubtful," "questionable," and "probable" categories to be used only on Friday reports instead of starting Wednesday. The reports on Wednesday and Thursday would only identify the injury, whether the injured player participated in practice, and if so, to what extent.
--Using the open week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl for assistant coaches on the Super Bowl teams to be interviewed for head-coaching positions.
Another key item on the agenda will be the status of the qualifiers for the expanded revenue sharing that owners approved as part of the collective bargaining agreement reached a year ago. Since then there have been regular meetings of the league's qualifiers committee, which consists of owners from large- and small-market teams, to determine a formula for the larger-market clubs to share revenue with those in smaller markets.
"We're hopeful that there will be a resolution at this meeting," Aiello said.