- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

NFL owners will convene today in Orlando, Fla., with the collective bargaining agreement extension behind them and the search for retiring commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s successor ahead. While a commissioner search committee might be formed during the three days of meetings, there also is other business to address.

Returning to Los Angeles, from which the Rams and Raiders both bolted after the 1994 season, has become a staple of these annual spring meetings, as are tweaks to player safety rules and the instant replay system. In the wake of Pittsburgh becoming the first sixth seed to win the Super Bowl, Kansas City is proposing yet again to expand the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams. And Tampa Bay is proposing to make all penalties subject to instant replay.

“Moving forward on Los Angeles is a key priority … because the economic foundations that enable us to look at that type of a challenge and to address it are in place with TV in place and labor in place,” Tagliabue said.

Tagliabue continues to meet with prospective ownership groups, whose team would play at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (the former home of the Raiders), the Rose Bowl in Pasadena or at Angel Stadium (the former home of the Rams) in Anaheim.

Ironically, Tagliabue’s success helping stadiums get built or onto the drawing board in markets like Arizona and Indianapolis has limited the possible franchises that could move to Los Angeles. If the San Diego Chargers don’t move there, expanding to 33 teams would seem to be the most viable option.

Atlanta general manager Rich McKay, the competition committee co-chairman and one of the leading candidates to succeed Tagliabue, said his group will propose five rule changes on player safety. The most prominent would put more of a burden on defensive players when they hit quarterbacks low and when they drag ballcarriers down by grabbing the jersey from behind.

The committee also will recommend giving a designated defensive player the same communication system with the sideline that quarterbacks have enjoyed for several years; reducing the maximum time for instant replay review from 90 seconds to a minute; having plays on which the ballcarrier is ruled down by contact be subject to review; and allowing offensive players to reset after flinching, in hopes of reducing the number of false starts.

While McKay said NFL officials “had a very good year” despite public perception to the contrary, he agreed there were some high-profile incorrect calls in the playoffs, such as the failure to uphold the interception by Troy Polamalu in the Steelers’ upset at Indianapolis and the phantom holding call against Seattle’s Sean Locklear in the Super Bowl that wiped out a big gain.

“We did talk about the Troy Polamalu play,” McKay said. “The completion of a catch has become a much more difficult call [because with] replay, you can literally go frame by frame and see the ball move on contacting the ground. To the official on the field, you’re looking at the act of the receiver catching the pass, going to the ground. You look, don’t see the ball come out and that’s a catch. … [On Locklear’s call] if you don’t see the entire action, you cannot assume that it was holding that caused that player to go to the ground.”

McKay doesn’t expect the Chiefs’ proposed playoff expansion to garner the 24 votes for approval, but he said it “sparked some interest” within his committee that hadn’t existed in recent years. So did the Buccaneers’ proposal to expand replay to cover all penalties, which McKay noted goes against the grain of replay.

“[When instant replay was installed], the big thing was to limit the number of challenges, but yet try to open up the areas you could challenge,” McKay said. “Then you would have a system that couldn’t interrupt the game too much. … There could always be a second chance, but that doesn’t apply to everything.”

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