Created on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 Written by BARRY WILNER, AP Pro Football Writer
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The NFL will place a heavy emphasis on enforcing its player conduct rules, something Rams coach Jeff Fisher calls "a front-of-the-book issue."
As the league's spring meetings wrapped up Wednesday with Commissioner Roger Goodell saying expansion of the playoffs next season is possible, sportsmanship — and lack thereof — was the prime topic.
"We're going to clean the game up on the field," said Fisher, co-chairman of the influential competition committee. "The in-your-face taunting, those types of things, the language. It's all in the (rule) book. It's all under unsportsmanlike conduct. There's no change in our rule. We're going to enforce the current rule."
That includes abusive and racist language.
"It includes everything, yes," Fisher said with emphasis.
He noted that everyone is fed up when a lack of sportsmanship occurs: owners, coaches, fans, players.
"The NCAA is hoping for us to do something about it and we've got to take the lead," Fisher said, "and we're going to do that."
The Miami Dolphins were plagued by a bullying scandal last season after tackle Jonathan Martin left the team. NFL investigators found that guard Richie Incognito and two teammates engaged in persistent harassment directed at Martin, another offensive lineman and an assistant trainer. Incognito was suspended for the final eight games of the season and no longer is with the Dolphins.
Taunting penalties also were up last year, Fisher said, from "nine to 12 or 13."
"In the past, taunting, sportsmanship was in the back of the book under points of emphasis," he said. "It is now in the front of the book. It falls in our book right after all the statistical things which were good about our game last year. It is now a front-of-the-book issue. And what we want to do is we want to be able to put it back in the back of the book."
While the owners voted or tabled a dozen rules or bylaw changes, expanding the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams — one in each conference — was discussed. Goodell is optimistic that's coming, and he will discuss it with the players union April 8. A vote could come as early as the owners' May meeting in Atlanta.
Could two extra wild-card games be implemented for 2014?
"It's not out of the question," Goodell said. "We have more work. I wouldn't rule it out, but I wouldn't say that's the direction we're heading.
"I think there's a tremendous amount of interest in this, possibly even to the point of support. But there also are things we still want to make sure we do right."
He believes expanded playoffs would make late-season division and wild-card races more compelling.
And two more postseason games would increase TV revenues.
Also on Wednesday, the owners:
— Approved experimentation with extra-point kicks from the 20-yard line for two weeks in the preseason, but implementing longer PATs for the regular season has been tabled.
— Adopted proposals to extend the length of the goalposts 5 feet to 35 feet to better determine if kicks are good; to no longer stop the clock on sacks; and to allow video reviews on plays with a recovery of a loose ball on the field even though the play had been whistled dead.
— Rejected proposals to move kickoffs to the 40-yard line; to allow more than one player to be placed on injured reserve, then return to the roster during the season; to subject personal foul penalties to video review; to permit coaches to challenge any officiating decision except on scoring plays or turnovers, which automatically are reviewed; and to eliminate the first preseason cutdown to 75 players.
— Tabled proposals to raise the number of active players for games not played on a Sunday or Monday, except for opening week, from 46 to 49; to raise the practice squad maximum from eight to 10 players; to eliminate overtime in preseason games; to allow trades after the Super Bowl and before the new league year begins in March; to permit teams to test at their facilities 10 players who attended the NFL combine; to place fixed cameras on the goal lines, sidelines and end lines to aid replay reviews; and to call pass interference in the area 1 yard or less from the line of scrimmage, where it does not apply now.
On Tuesday, the owners approved allowing referees to consult with the officiating department in New York on replay challenges, and they voted to ban blockers from rolling up on the side of the legs of a defender. The league also barred players from dunking the ball over the crossbar in celebration.
AP Sports Writers Fred Goodall and Mark Long contributed to this story.