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Not enough support for 4th-and-15 rule

In Steelers President Art Rooney II's eyes, what has come to be known as the fourth-and-15 rule was too much of a gimmick, the chance for making permanent the rule allowing pass interference to be challenged was zero, and the idea of incentivizing the Rooney Rule needs more thought.

During today's virtual NFL Owners Meeting, there were four proposals approved, two others were tabled, and the rule allowing offensive and defensive pass interference penalties (both called and uncalled) to be challenged via instant replay review officially was put out of its misery.

"We had six items we could have voted on, and we wound up approving four of them and tabling two of them," said Rooney. "We approved the defenseless player rule for returners. We approved the rule on limiting the pre-snap fouls that people started to play with last year (to run time off the clock). We approved the item concerning extra points being replayable. We also approved the bylaw proposal that increases the number of players who can be designated to return (from the injured reserve list) from two to three. Those were the ones we approved. There's another designated to return proposal that got tabled, and then the one that got the most discussion was the onside kick alternative, the fourth-and-15 rule, and that also got tabled."

Rooney admitted that there is interest in trying to do something to allow an avenue for a team that's trailing late in a game to have a realistic chance to mount a comeback, but he doubted anything would happen in time for the 2020 season.

"That one (fourth-and-15) got the most discussion, and there's interest in possibly looking at what we can do here, but there wasn't enough support for this particular proposal, and the Commissioner left it open that we're still open to ideas about what to do about this," said Rooney. "I think everybody agrees that it would be good to have some form of onside kick available to teams trying to make a comeback. Under the current rules for the kickoff, it has become almost an impossible play to make. I'm skeptical that we'll come up with something for the 2020 season at this point, but the Commissioner did leave the door open for further discussion on it."

Another issue about fourth-and-15 was that even as the proposal was going to come up for a vote, there were adjustments being made to it.

"The proposal that was on the table was not exclusive to the trailing team," said Rooney. "It can be used at any point in the game by either team. The only limit was that you can only use it twice during the game. They did turn it into an untimed down. I'm not sure why, but the reason they amended it to an untimed down was to prevent it from being used as a clock-killer by the team that is ahead. Sort of running around behind the line of scrimmage, maybe killing five seconds or something like that. That was the adjustment they made."

But even with the adjustments, the Steelers were not in favor.

"We really weren't in favor of this one," said Rooney. "I would say we're open to thinking about whether there's something we can do with the kickoff in a more traditional setting that might allow onside kicks to have a better chance of happening. But this one was just a little bit too much of a gimmick. Coach Tomlin and I just didn't like the idea."

And as Rooney explained, the only way for fourth-and-15 to be revisited, "They would have to schedule a special meeting for it to come up, and it's certainly possible that could happen. But there's nothing on the schedule right now, and that's why I said I would be skeptical about something getting passed for the 2020 season at this point."

Of all of the proposals, it would seem the extension of the defenseless player protection to include punt returners and kickoff returners was the no-brainer, especially given the strides the league has made in all areas of player safety. Since wide receivers cannot be contacted until given a chance to secure the ball and protect themselves, it only made sense to do the same for returners.

"It's more for the punt returner," said Rooney. "The kickoff returners don't really run into that issue that often. It's really the punt returners who are exposed. College football has the halo-rule where you have to let the guy catch it, and so now I would say we have a similar-type rule."

A rule the NFL no longer has is the one allowing called or uncalled pass interference penalties to be reviewable, and it's doubtful any fans outside of New Orleans are upset about that.

"I guess you would say it was official today (that it was killed)," said Rooney about reviewable pass interference. "There really was no sentiment at any point this offseason, that I'm aware of, to bring it back. I think everybody concluded pretty quickly after the (2019) season that it was an experiment that didn't work. I guess you could say it became official today when they didn't even bring it up for a vote or for discussion."

Two other issues that didn't come up for a vote were the addition of an eighth official as a "sky judge" and the incentive aspect of the Rooney Rule, which could award draft picks or improve the draft position of a team hiring a minority for an opening as a coordinator, head coach, or general manager.

"There was some discussion about, and there were some proposals about adding a so-called sky judge, which some of the coaches are strongly in favor of," said Rooney. "That didn't have any real support, or large support. They are going to potentially experiment with some version of it in the preseason, but I would say that content has a long way to go."

And as for incentivizing the Rooney Rule: "We did not revisit it at this meeting," said Rooney. "I would say it requires more discussion, more thought, and there really wasn't enough time between the last meeting and this meeting to do that justice. I think we'll continue to discuss it in our Workplace Diversity Committee meeting and see if we can come up with some ideas that have some merit."