Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy (right) spent some time with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell prior to the Packers-Seahawks NFC Divisional Playoff game at Lambeau Field this past January.
One of the hot topics that did not even come to a vote Wednesday on the final day of the NFL owners' annual meeting was the potential re-seeding of playoff teams, and Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy was one attendee who voiced his opinion against the measure.
The proposal would allow for a wild card team with a better record than a division champion to get a higher seed and host a wild card game. Currently, division champions who do not receive a first-round bye are guaranteed to host the wild card game regardless of the opponent's record.
The proposal did not have enough support to even be brought to a vote, and Murphy was among those who expressed his satisfaction with the current system.
"I think it got away from the idea that I think our fans really support and like -- that if you win your division you host a home playoff game," Murphy said, speaking to a group of reporters at the conclusion of the meetings. "I talked about the importance to the league of division rivalries, and I thought that this proposal would have devalued those."
Murphy mentioned the biggest rivalry from his playing days with the Redskins, which was against the Cowboys. The Packers have longstanding division rivalries against the Bears, Vikings and Lions that would potentially have less meaning if defeating them and coming out on top in the division race meant the NFC North champion might be going on the road in the first round of the playoffs anyway.
The rationale behind the proposal was to add more meaning to some late-season games, because teams wouldn't be locked into their playoff seeding so quickly if a wild-card team could leapfrog a division champion based on having a better overall record.
But Murphy said one of the things that may be looked at to try to avoid so-called "meaningless" late-season games would be for teams to play more of their division games in the latter half of the season, leaving division titles presumably more up-for-grabs down the stretch.
"You want to have those games have as much value as possible," Murphy said. "Right now when you win your division you know you have a home playoff game, and that's something I think the fans can really relate to."
The idea of re-seeding the playoffs could come up again at the owners' meeting in May.
Among the rule changes that did pass on Wednesday were the following:
--The force-out rule was eliminated. Receivers making catches near the boundaries now need to get both feet down in bounds, whether or not they are hit by a defender as they are trying to land. The only exception is if a defender grabs and carries a receiver out of bounds.
--Replay can now be used on field goals and extra points, a change stemming from a Cleveland field goal this past season that cleared the crossbar but hit the curved support behind the crossbar and came back onto the field. Replay cannot be used, however, on kicks that carry over the top of the upright. Those will remain judgment calls by the officials on the field.
--The 5-yard facemask penalty was eliminated. Facemask calls will now all be 15-yard personal fouls (the flagrant grabbing and twisting variety), with the officials having the discretion to not throw a flag at all on the previously "incidental" facemask.
--Teams winning the opening coin toss can defer their choice to the second half. This copies the college rule, allowing teams that win the coin toss to choose to take the ball first in the second half, rather than in the first half.
The final rule change was one Murphy, an athletic director at two Division I institutions before coming to the Packers, said college coaches have always appreciated, and it passed overwhelmingly on Wednesday.
Murphy said their promises to be more study of the collective bargaining agreement and other labor issues when the owners reconvene in May, but these meetings provided a good start both for him and for further labor discussions.
"I really enjoyed it," Murphy said of the three days of meetings. "It was a chance to get to know a lot of the other owners and personnel from within the league. We had some votes, but just as importantly there was good discussion and presentations on very important issues, including some of the broadcast issues, collective bargaining agreement and labor issues. It was positive overall."