On the Friday before the Super Bowl each year, the NFL Commissioner holds a news conference at the site of the game, and it's fitting that this Q&A has evolved in a way reflecting the event itself. Part substance, part shtick.
Roger Goodell stood behind the microphone for the better part of an hour, with most of the time spent answering questions on a variety of issues pertaining to the league. But before that got underway, there was a bit of shtick, a bit that NFL Network reported later was Goodell's own idea.
With Super Bowl XLVIII to be played in northern New Jersey in an open-air stadium on the first Sunday in February, the weather and its impact on both the game and the many events surrounding it has been front-and-center as an issue for a fortnight. As Goodell touched on this during his opening statement, fake snow started to fall onto the stage behind him.
"I told you we were going to embrace the weather," said Goodell to some laughter, before turning serious again. "We are doing something innovative and unprecedented. Something consistent with the essence of football and the Super Bowl. This is the No. 1 market and a great stage for this Super Bowl matchup, and the world will be watching."
As for the substance of the Q&A session, it was similar to so many other news conferences in that there were few pronouncements but many hints of what might be to come, especially with regard to proposals to expand the playoffs and centralizing instant replay.
Currently, 12 teams qualify for the NFL playoffs, six from each conference. The new proposal would be to add one team from each conference to the playoff field, with only the top seed in each conference getting a bye through the first round.
"There are a lot of benefits to expanding the playoff field to 14," said Goodell. "We think we can do it properly from a competitive standpoint."
During the 2013 regular season and into the playoffs, there were several instances of officiating mistakes in game-deciding situations, and it turned out that those mistakes could not be fixed because they came on plays not subject to review under the current system for instant replay. Instant replay could be expanded to encompass all plays, and a corresponding item here is the idea of centralizing things, similar to how the NHL has all reviews conducted at league headquarters.
"We think there is plenty of room for us to improve the game of football, particularly officiating," said Goodell. "As to the NHL model – at the end of the day the system (we come up with) will be unique to the NFL."
Goodell said the NFL Competition Committee will be looking at expanding the playoffs and the modification of instant replay, and the committee then will present its findings to the league's owners. Decisions on both playoff expansion and modifying instant replay can be expected to be the highlights of the NFL spring meetings on March 23-26 in Orlando.
Goodell also fielded questions on playing games in Mexico, whether London is any closer to getting an NFL franchise after selling out 2014's three-game package at Wembley Stadium, the status of the concussion settlement, the in-stadium experience for fans, whether having a team nicknamed Redskins is offensive, and the unionization efforts of athletes at Northwestern University.
With Mother Nature expected to cooperate on Sunday with clear skies and temperatures in the 40s, there is a sense that hosting the Super Bowl could be opened to cities where winter can be harsh. But Goodell narrowed the field when he brought up the issue of the locale's "infrastructure."
"We know there's interest in other communities hosting the Super Bowl," said Goodell. "I think the ownership will sit back and review that when we're done, but we have a very aggressive process in how we select cities. The ability to host the Super Bowl is more and more complicated, more and more complex because of the size and number of events. The infrastructure is very important. There are over 30,000 hotel rooms needed even to host the Super Bowl so there are some communities that may not be able to do it from an infrastructure standpoint, but we know the passion's there."
Then, there was this:
Q: Would you submit to a random test for marijuana?
Goodell: "I am randomly tested, and I am happy to say that I'm clean."
After all, it is Super Bowl week.