By BOB LABRIOLA
They're on board with Commissioner Roger Goodell's initiatives designed to protect what's being referred to as the integrity of the game, things such as random spot checks of locker rooms and team facilities to serve as a deterrent to cheating.
They're not opposed to proposals that would implement some kind of direct coach-to-player communication for the defense, similar to what already exists for the offense.
They're willing to listen to the idea of implementing some kind of moratorium designed to prevent tampering before the official start of free agency.
When the NFL owners gather for several days of meetings that begin on Sunday, March 30, the Steelers will be attending with an open mind about everything that figures to be discussed, with one notable exception:
The seeding of teams for the playoffs.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are believed to be the team that will propose a change to the NFL's current system of postseason seeding, which places division winners above wild card qualifiers, regardless of overall record. The Jaguars' proposal would seed teams for the playoffs based on overall record.
"We're going in with an open mind on most things with one exception – playoff seeding with regard to the division winners," said Steelers president Art Rooney II. "That's one thing we're opposed to, and we have always been opposed to ideas like this that diminish the value of winning the division."
The Jaguars' position can be seen as self-serving, because if the seedings of the AFC teams in the 2007 playoffs had been done strictly by overall record, the Steelers would have played the Wild Card Game in Jacksonville.
As it was, the 10-6 Steelers hosted the 11-5 Jaguars at Heinz Field, because Pittsburgh won the AFC North while Jacksonville finished second in the AFC South to 13-3 Indianapolis.
"We always have felt that (winning the division) is an important part of the season, an important part of the way the fans appreciate the season," said Rooney. "We just don't see any reason to fool with that at this point."
Rooney also addressed the other issues likely to be presented at the NFL meetings, which will conclude on Wednesday, April 2.
On Commissioner Roger Goodell's steps to protect the integrity of the game:
"I certainly agree that it's an issue that needs to be addressed, and what we've heard from the commissioner so far makes sense, but obviously we've got to hear more details," said Rooney. "It sounds like he's going to put measures in place that should make a difference, certainly make people think twice if they are having thoughts of trying to skirt the rules.
"These days, you have to say there is an opportunity to exploit technology to gain an advantage that is not part of the rules. That is something that will probably an ongoing challenge as technology continues to advance. There is enough opportunity for people to be crafty with those things, and so the Commissioner is right to look at putting in place some measures to make sure people aren't playing games with those kinds of opportunities.
"Little things – like inspecting the locker room before the game and having random spot checks of facilities and things like that – hopefully will prevent the kinds of things you don't even want to have people being accused of."
On providing the defense with the same kind of coach-to-player communication that already exists for the offense:
"I think it'll help," said Rooney. "The offense has had an advantage, and it's something that's recognized that the defense deserves to have their chance. The issue the last couple of years has been how to police it because there is so much substitution on the defensive side. As long as they can work through all of that, I think it's a good thing."
Other on-field issues to be discussed include the abolition of the 5-yard facemask penalty, expanding the use of replay to allow for field goal attempts to be reviewed to make sure the ball was inside the uprights, and what can be called the hair-out-of-the-helmet rule, which would ban players from wearing their hair in such a way that it covers the name on the back of the jersey.
"I think we probably would be inclined to be opposed to that change," said Rooney about adopting a hair-out-of-the-helmet rule. "But I would say there probably needs to be some consideration on what it too much. What's too much? Hair out of the helmet is one thing; hair halfway down a player's back is something else. I don't know. Should there be some kind of rule? I don't know if that's something we'd be prepared to vote on now, but it seems to be fair game for discussion."