If Commissioner Roger Goodell gets his way, change could be coming to the NFL.
Adding playoff teams. Monitoring instant replay from league headquarters. Possibly creating a set of guidelines to prevent locker-room bullying.
Short on details or precise timetables, and acknowledging he'll need approval from team owners for action, Goodell painted the picture of an ever-evolving league during his annual pre-Super Bowl news conference, held Friday in a theatre in midtown Manhattan.
Goodell said "there's a lot of benefits" to increasing the postseason field from 12 to 14 clubs.
"We think we can make the league more competitive. We think we can make the matchups more competitive toward the end of the season. There will be more excitement, more memorable moments for our fans. And that's something that attracts us," Goodell said. "We think we can do it properly from a competitive standpoint. So this will continue to get very serious consideration by the competition committee."
That sort of proposal would require "Yes" votes from 24 of the 32 owners.
At least one who attended Goodell's speech, Jeffrey Lurie of the Philadelphia Eagles, sounded in favour of the idea, with a couple of caveats: He wouldn't want to let too many teams into the postseason, and he'd like to hear more about scheduling.
"We don't want to become like some other sports, where it's too easy to make the playoffs," Lurie said. "Adding one team would not put us in a counterproductive situation. But when you would play the games, I think, is very important, so that the following games, you have virtually an equal time to prepare."
Making a not-so-subtle reference to mistakes by game officials this season, Goodell said that committee also will make recommendations to the 32 owners about having replays from all games overseen by the league office.
Major League Baseball recently joined the NHL as sports that have centralized replay systems.
"We think there's plenty of room for us to improve the game of football, and officiating in particular. What we all want is consistency and fairness in our officiating," Goodell said.
"I do believe there is a possibility that some version of that will occur — where our office can at least be involved with the decision. It may not make the decision," he added, "but at least can provide some input that would be helpful to the officials on the field to make sure they're seeing every angle."
Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney said he needs more information before deciding whether he'd be in favour.
"Our situation is different than hockey. But I think we should look at everything," Rooney said. "Maybe we want to expand the number of incidents that you look at. A lot of times they'll say, `That's not reviewable.' Look into that, for example."
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft likes the suggestion.
Preventing alleged bullying
"Games should be standardized and have the same people making the calls," Kraft said. "I don't want to ever lose a game based on poor interpretation of rules by [different] officials."
Another focal point, according to Goodell, will be preventing the kind of alleged bullying that rocked the Miami Dolphins this season.
"I've already begun discussions with outside parties. I've discussed it with the union, I've also met with several groups of players, individually and collectively, to talk about the circumstances. What needs to be done?" Goodell said. "Some of it will be education. Some of it possibly could be policy change."
Speaking two days before the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks play in East Rutherford, N.J., Goodell did not respond directly to questions whether other cold-weather cities with outdoor stadiums could host NFL championship games.
During his opening remarks, Goodell said: "One unique aspect about the focus for this year's Super Bowl has been on the weather. Of course, we cannot control the weather. I told you we were going to embrace the weather. Here we go."
And with that, flakes of fake snow fell from the ceiling above the stage, drawing laughter.
Among other topics addressed by Goodell:
- The NFL is working to convince a federal judge in Philadelphia that the tentative $765 million US settlement reached with former players who sued the league about concussions "can provide the kind of benefits that we intended, and we're confident that we'll get there";
- The difficulty in selling out wild-card playoff games resulted from "mistakes that were made by us, the NFL, and our clubs," and not fans' fault, and that improving stadium safety "is a critical component";
- The NFL is "not actively considering" allowing players to use marijuana for medical reasons, but "that's something we would never take off the table, if it can benefit our players";
- Selling out all three of next season's games in London is "just another indication that the more we give fans in the U.K. of NFL football, the more they want" and that the possibility of placing a franchise in that country is closer to reality than a year ago;
- He deflected a question about whether he'd call a Native American a "Redskin" face-to-face, saying, "Let's not forget this is the name of a football team."