Rulemakers aim to balance sportsmanship, spontaneity

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PHOENIX – The process of rewriting rules isn't a barrel of fun, but the NFL is hoping to inject a little more fun into the game during its rule-making process.

Teams will vote on a variety of proposed rules changes at the NFL Annual Meeting this week, but in conjunction with that, the league has announced a couple of initiatives that won't require actual rules changes that league officials believe will change the game for the better.

Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, says a video is being developed to educate players on what the league considers appropriate and inappropriate celebrations. From the sound of it, the league wants to figure out ways to allow its players to more often express their excitement after big plays without undue fear of prosecution in the form of penalties.

"Frankly, we want the officials to keep the flags on their waist, and we want the players to celebrate, to be spontaneous," Vincent said. "As a former player I understand the spontaneous nature of a big play and wanting to be excited and have fun with your teammates. We just want to make sure that there are things that don't belong in our game, keep them out.

"We want our officials officiating the game, not throwing flags because of guys celebrating. You're not going to see any rule changes. We just want to clarify and bring clarity for all."

Also, the league is working toward ways to fasten the pace of play in order to improve the overall gameday experience for fans both in stadiums and in their living rooms.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league plans to reduce downtime with an array of changes, from fewer commercial interruptions to several standardizations of the game clock, including the starting of the clock after plays go out of bounds and following scores.

"We expect that there will be a reduction in game time based on some of these changes, but the focus is in-game downtime, being more efficient, and the entire game experience whether it's in the stadium or watching at home on TV," senior vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said. "Just having a better experience as we talk about pace of game."

Blandino also said referees will be allowed to announce the results of a replay review in-stadium before the game broadcast returns from commercial.

While those changes won't require a vote by owners this week, some other aspects of replay will be put to a vote, among other things.

• Teams will consider fundamental changes to how replay reviews are administered, namely whether to bring a tablet onto the field for the referee as opposed to the current "under the hood" method. Teams will also consider whether Blandino will make the final decision remotely with input from game officials. There also will be a discussion about whether all officials' decisions should be reviewable via coaches' challenges.

• Overtime could be overhauled – or at least tweaked – with a proposal that overtime in the regular season and preseason be reduced from 15 minutes to 10.

• The shortening of overtime would be made with player safety in mind, as would a proposal to eliminate leaping over the line of scrimmage to block a kick and adding a receiver running a route to the "defenseless player" protections.

• Two rules changes implemented for one season could return again this season. The NFL Competition Committee is recommending adding another year to the rule giving receiving teams the ball at the 25-yard line following touchbacks on kickoffs and permanently adopting last year's rule that mandates a player's ejection for two unsportsmanlike penalties in the same game.

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