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Commissioner expected to map out harsher penalties

3/25/2007 - NFL

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Roger Goodell's first full NFL meeting as
commissioner is beginning with one item at the top of the agenda: a
crackdown on players who get in trouble with the law.

The meetings formally begin Monday with Goodell's state of the
NFL address to the owners. But everyone was on hand Sunday for
committee meetings.

As did his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, Goodell is likely to say
the state of the league is good. However, he is also expected to
announce, most likely on Tuesday, new and strengthened rules for
discipline for what is perceived as an increasing number of players
with legal issues.

The new discipline is likely to be harsher, with longer
suspensions than the current two or four games, and punishment
handed down more quickly. In the past, the league most often has
waited until the legal process has been exhausted before suspending
players for violations of the law. Now, with the concurrence of the
NFL Players Association and many players, it may not.

Still, it is likely to be vigorously discussed.

"Everyone agrees you have to have increased discipline," John
Mara, co-owner of the New York Giants said Sunday. "But you have
to take legal issues into account on how quickly you can act and
you have to take into account the form the discipline would take --
if, for example, you discipline teams that have multiple players
who get in trouble. But what's been happening isn't good for the
anyone."

Added Miami's Wayne Huizenga:

"It's important to have a policy and I want to hear what they
have to say because I have not seen anything presented. It's
something I am in favor of if it is crystal clear. It depends on
what the criteria is presented in it. As long as you know what it
calls for, I'm in favor of it. It's definitely an important issue
for us."

The team in the spotlight the most has been the Cincinnati Bengals, who during the last year had nine players arrested on a
variety of charges ranging from boating while drunk to spousal
abuse and weapons violations.

But the two players who have had the most difficulty are Adam "Pacman" Jones of Tennessee, who has had 10 separate encounters
with the police, and Tank Johnson of Chicago, who was sentenced
last week to four months in jail on weapons charges.

The new policy in part stems from a meeting during the scouting
combine in Indianapolis involving Goodell; Gene Upshaw, executive
director of the NFLPA; and a group of about 10 players. All agreed
that stronger and quicker discipline is needed.

The question of blaming teams for player behavior stems from
information gathered before the draft.

"We usually know who the problem players are," Mara said.
"The question is whether you hold teams responsible for drafting
them. In some cases, you just have to decide whether you're going
to bypass unbelievable talent because you know a player could be a
problem."

There also could be several rules changes this week, many of
them minor.

The biggest might be moving the kickoff in overtime from the
30-yard line, the spot in regulation, to the 35.

Atlanta general manager Rich McKay, the competition committee's
co-chairman, said last week that the group believed the kickoff
spot was the major reason 62 percent of teams winning the coin toss
won overtime games last season -- it gave them better field position
throughout the overtime. McKay said it stemmed from the change in
1998 that moved the kickoff back to the 30 and added the
"K-ball," a kicking ball harder to kick deep.

Until then, winners and losers of the toss had won the games
just about equally.

The rule would have to be approved by three-quarters of the
teams, as would a variety of other proposed rules changes. Of
those, the one with the most impact would make instant replay,
which is due to expire after two more seasons, a permanent part of
the league's rules.