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Weighing In On The Issues


When NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue made his State of the NFL address prior to Super Bowl XXXVIII, he had a message for players that harsher penalties were on the way for elaborate celebrations.

Now the NFL's Competition Committee is prepared to back up the commissioner's warning.

Excessive celebration is one of the primary topics up for discussion when NFL executives, owners and coaches from all 32 teams gather March 29-31 in Palm Beach, Fla., to discuss issues and vote on proposals at the league's annual meeting.

Under the current rule, two or more players that engage in excessive, premeditated celebrations can be fined by the league. But according to Rich McKay, general manager of the Atlanta Falcons and co-chairman of the Competition Committee, the fines have not been effective in curbing choreographed celebrations.

"The fines in this area did not work," McKay said. "Our fines in this area went up maybe threefold. ... Last year more than 50 players were fined under this category."

The proposal being put forward at the meetings would allow officials to enforce an unsportsmanlike penalty on excessive group celebrations. The committee is also recommending that the Commissioner's memo from two years ago that allowed penalties be called for bringing foreign objects on the field -- a rule triggered by Terrell Owens' incident with a Sharpie marker and tested last season by Joe Horn bringing out a cell phone -- be written into the rule books.

While Commissioner Tagliabue's urging to take unsportsmanlike conduct out of the game was certainly heard by the committee, outside influences have also prompted action.

"We got letters from high school associations and the NCAA urging us to look at sportsmanship," McKay said. "We proposed an issue that it be an on-the-field penalty in the hopes that we can someway curb that activity. ... I don't think players want to see 15 yards thrown on their team as a penalty and don't want to come to the sidelines and face their coach when that flag has been thrown."

Two issues that we're heavily discussed at last year's meeting will return as the Kansas City Chiefs are again proposing changes to the overtime system and expanding the playoffs.

The overtime proposal would change the current sudden-death overtime format to a two-possession system that would give both teams a chance to score, with the game reverting to sudden death thereafter.

In stating that the committee would not recommend the overtime change, McKay said, "Last year we were split on that issue, but this year we're a little more one way, and that'd be against it."

The proposal on the playoffs would expand the total number of teams from 12 to 14. The proposed format would provide two additional wild-card teams and give only the No. 1 seed in each conference a first-round bye.

"We really feel this year again that the system works very well and that the playoff number at 12 is a good number," McKay said. "For competitive reasons, we don't recommend expansion. There may be other reasons to do it, we just don't believe they are for competitive reasons."

Instant replay will also be a topic for discussion with the committee recommending a tweak to grant a third challenge to a team if the team was successful on both of their first two challenges.

"We feel that gives the teams the flexibility to use the challenges when they see fit, but still requires that they use them on big plays because there's only three of them in total," McKay said.

Other key issues to be discussed by the NFL Competition Committee involve tampering rules regarding the interviewing of assistant coaches on playoff teams, expanding the practice squad and international player development.

Outside of the Competition Committee, other items at the meetings include status updates on the network broadcast contract and discussions with the NFL Players Association toward extending the Collective Bargaining Agreement. There will reports given on league economics, NFL Network and the status of stadium projects in Los Angeles.

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