BOCA RATON, Fla. – Two notable rule changes impacting sportsmanship and player safety were revealed at the conclusion of the 2016 NFL Annual Meeting.
First, the league passed a rule for automatic ejection after two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls for a one-year trial period.
Said commissioner Roger Goodell: "I think (Rams head coach) Jeff Fisher said the best, he started off the meeting (Wednesday) saying, listen, as coaches we're responsible for making sure we coach our players, control our players, and sportsmanship is a key component of that. Second, coach made it very clear that while we've had points of emphasis in the past in the competition committee, they need teeth. This was a rule that brought teeth to that."
Additionally, the touchback has been moved up to the 25-yard line on a one-year trial basis.
Said competition committee chairman Rich McKay: "We passed that also for one year because we do want to see if it changes the numbers and how it impacts the game because there is that thought that there will be some more short kicks."
After discussing rule changes, commissioner Goodell fielded questions from the assembled media. Some highlights are listed below:
On playing a game in China: "The size and the influence of China in the global marketplace is obviously something that you can't ignore. You can't ignore that as a sport, or a business, or as a nation. We know we have lots of fans over there, and more importantly, potential fans over there. So we've had a number of activities that are designed to increase the popularity of our game over there, to give them a better sense of our game, and a regular season game has proven to be a real driver to that type of activity."
On coaches wanting more time with players in offseason:"Coaches like to coach and so they want to be on the field and they want to be out working to try to improve their team. We made an agreement with our players. We're going to respect it and we're going to have all 32 teams operating on that same level playing field."
On streaming games: "We think this is a significant shift obviously in the media landscape. It's something that we have to be at the forefront of. We have our experiment – forgive that term because I don't use it internally – but our game with Yahoo was a very important step in that. We were able to stream the game successfully from a technology standpoint, starting with that. Second, I think it was a great experience. We learned an awful lot about the global audience. We learned about how the audience and what platforms they are engaging on -- whether it's a desktop, whether it's a tablet, whether it's a phone device. As technology gets better, this is only going to be a growing opportunity for us. So we are going to take our time. There is no rush on it other than getting to the right combination, but I do see it in the context of the Thursday Night package. There are some other potential opportunities where we can bring it other partners. You saw this week we announced with the Arizona Cardinals a new show on Amazon. That is another great opportunity to be talking with these digital companies about how we can be innovative and how we can reach new customers."
On possible link between football and CTE: "The most important thing for us is to support the medical and scientists to determine what those connections are. We think the statements that have been made through Jeff Miller and others have been consistent with our position over the years. We've actually funded those studies, so we're not only aware of those, we recognize them and we support those studies. A lot of the research is still in its infancy, but we're trying to find ways to accelerate that, and that's part of what we're doing in investing in additional research this week. But we're also not waiting for the research. We're going out and making the changes to our game. We're making changes to our rules, which you've heard about today. We made changes in 2011 that affected the way we train our athletes. Several coaches and I had conversations today about how it's changing the way they're teaching the techniques that are used on the field and in training. All very positive changes. You've also seen a lot of the changes we've made in equipment, and there are more to come. There are changes to the fields, changes with helmets — some of you may have been able to see the tech lab today with the VICIS helmet out there. So there's exciting technological changes that are going to make our game safer, and we're advancing that, we're driving that. And so our view is to try to continue to do that. We'll support science and medicine and allow them to make those decisions, and try to see what we can do to support that and advance that."