There will be 19 playing rules proposals considered during the 2016 NFL Owners Meetings that are set to begin this weekend in Boca Raton, Florida, and Steelers President Art Rooney II said today there are a couple of issues about which the team feels strongly.
Rooney said the Steelers would be a "yea" vote on making all chop blocks illegal, and a "nay" on anything having to do with expanding the scope of instant replay or the number of challenges allotted per team per game. Everything else is up for discussion, including a scenario in which the Steelers could possibly give up a regular season home game in order to participate in one of the increasing number the league plans to stage overseas in the upcoming few years.
Other issues to be discussed and possibly voted upon include a permanent change to the extra-point rule that had been introduced on a trial basis in 2015; a change of the spot of a touchback after a kickoff for the offense from the 20-yard line to the 25-yard line; instituting a specific number of personal foul/unsportsmanlike conduct penalties – and the specific kinds of those penalties – that would lead to an in-game ejection; and then of course, all of those attempts at expanding instant replay.
"There are a number of rules proposals from individual teams that deal with instant replay and challenges," said Rooney. "I would say, in general, as we reviewed it up to this point, we are probably opposed to all of them. Again, I think we are not in favor of increasing the number of replays in the game. We think there are enough now. So like I said, in general, I don't think we are for any of these, not that we won't listen to the arguments and be open-minded about hearing different teams' positions on it, but in the general matter, I don't think we are in favor of expanding replay in any way.
"I just don't think you want to have so many stoppages in the game. I think when we first put it in, the idea was to try to correct a real potential game-changing play that was officiated wrong. As far as I am concerned, there are enough opportunities to do that with what we have in the rules today."
Rooney also acknowledged that often times teams' proposals to expand instant replay are spurred by a specific play that impacted one of their games the previous season.
"Everybody who has a problem play in one year decides to propose a rule they think would have changed their season," said Rooney. "I think a lot of it is a reaction to an individual play that a team may have had during the course of the year. Again, as far as I'm concerned, we have enough with the coaches' challenges, and the fact that you can review all turnovers and all scoring plays."
PERSONAL FOULS/UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT
Following a number of high-profile incidents during the 2015 regular season and then in the Wild Card Round Game between the Steelers and Bengals in Cincinnati, Rooney admits there is momentum for coming up with a set procedure to eject the perpetrators of numerous personal fouls and/or unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. What seems to be left to discuss is categorizing the kinds of fouls that will lead to ejection.
"We expect there will be a proposal from the Competition Committee to disqualify a player who has two unsportsmanlike conduct/personal foul penalties in a game," said Rooney. "At this point, as I understand, there is going to be a short list of the kinds of fouls where that would apply. It won't apply to all personal fouls or all unsportsmanlike conduct fouls. We expect it to be at least a proposal that's limited to the more egregious kind of conduct – fighting punching, and those kinds of things. I think it sounds like it is being narrowed down into an area where we probably could support something like that. I think it's fair to say that I expect something is going to pass."
FROM THE 20-YARD LINE TO THE 25-YARD LINE
In a nod to player safety, the NFL moved kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line, and even with that it became something of a regular occurrence for returners to being the ball out even when catching it more than 5 yards deep in the end zone. The proposal to be considered next week would serve to incentivize to accept a touchback.
"It's another attempt to reduce the number of kickoff returns in the game," said Rooney. "It's really a safety thing. I think it may be a little bit controversial in terms of moving the ball to the 25-yard line, but it's one where we will listen to the proposal. What will be the consequences of doing this? That's where we need some discussion about if this is actually going to encourage (the kickoff team) to pooch it and try to pin people inside the 25-yard line. The intention here is to reduce the number of kick returns, but whether this is the right change in the rule, I don't know."
The Steelers played the first-ever overseas regular season game in franchise history in 2013, against the Minnesota Vikings in London. Over time, the NFL has expanded from just one regular season game in London per season to two, and in 2016 there will be three regular season games played in the UK with another slated to be played in Mexico. With the NFL committed to playing at least one game in Mexico in each of the upcoming three seasons, plus the expanding London schedule and the possibility of adding other venues in other countries to the mix, the NFL's plan to make pro football an international sport is moving full speed ahead.
"As you know, the league and I are and in favor of more international games," said Rooney. "It is a question of scheduling, and I think there is going to be a discussion, maybe a proposal, about liberalizing the ability of the league to schedule a team the weekend after they've played in London, or (what the scheduling rules are for) the games on either side of an international game. Right now, our rule is you have a bye weekend. If we're going to expand the number of international games, it's probably going to be difficult to keep that part of the requirement. But the bottom line is, the effort here is to try to expand the number of international games."
The Steelers had a very nice following in London for the game against the Vikings, but the team is No. 1 in attendance in Mexico among all NFL teams that aren't located in a state that borders on Mexico.
"(The NFL is) going to have our first game in a while in Mexico, and we would like to be considered for one of those games," said Rooney. "At this point, it's potentially a three-year deal with Mexico. There will be a game in Mexico for the next three years, so we've kind of raised our hand for that one, and hopefully we'll get selected one of these years for a game in Mexico."
It often has been reported that the Steelers' lease at Heinz Field mandates 10 NFL games per season, and that number coincides perfecting with the existing 20-game schedule. But it leaves no wiggle room.
"We only have a handful of teams that don't mind giving up a home game, and they're the ones always in the mix," said Rooney. "That's definitely one of the challenges. It's a challenge for us. We would like to play in some of these games, but we're not anxious to give up a home game. Maybe some year, we'll have to do it once. We have a limit where we can (give up a home game) once in a while, but we have to get permission from our landlord to do it. Even with that, it's something you're always reluctant to do. We only have eight regular season games and two preseason games, so you are always reluctant to take one out of the mix."
ON MARTAVIS BRYANT
It was within the last seven days that the NFL announced a one-year suspension for Martavis Bryant for violating the league's drug policy. Bryant had been suspended for the first four games in 2015 as a result of previous failed drug tests.
"There's not much I can say other than we are disappointed, and we hope that he can deal with the situation and have the discipline that is necessary to be a player in the NFL," said Rooney. "It's very disappointing. At the same time, we hope, to the extent that we are allowed, we will try to help him make sure he gets rehabilitation and those kinds of things. But it's a disappointing situation to say the least."