Draft changes among topics discussed at owners' meeetings
PHILADELPHIA -- The NFL moved to speed up its draft on Tuesday during owners' meetings at which it also discussed having the Buffalo Bills play regular season games in Toronto, expanding the reach of the NFL Network and moving the Pro Bowl.
No action was taken on any of those issues except the draft, in which the time between picks in the first round will be cut from 15 minutes to 10 to help speed up a process that went a record 6 hours and 8 minutes last April.
Starting time was also moved from noon EDT to 3 p.m. for the first day, which will be limited to two rounds instead of three.
"We believe this will make for a more streamlined and efficient draft," commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement issued during the league owners' meetings.
The issue that could have the biggest impact, however, involves Buffalo's games in Toronto.
Owners considered a proposal that would have the Bills playing one home game per season there for the next five years to help the team expand its diminishing market in western New York into Canada's largest metropolitan area.
While the Bills have marketed in Canada for years, this would be the first time they played regular-season home-games there.
In addition, they would play exhibition games there in 2008, 2010 and 2012.
"It helps expand our market in Buffalo," team owner Ralph Wilson said. "It gives us a major metropolitan area to expand our base."
Two years ago, the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals met in Mexico City in the first regular-season NFL game played outside the United States. This Sunday, the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins will meet in London in the second.
Goodell said at a news conference he thought the changes in the draft would go a long way to streamlining the process, which in recent years has become an endurance test.
There was also a change in the second round. It will be cut from 10 minutes to seven between choices for next year's draft, which will be held April 26-27 at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
In recent years, teams have often used most of the 15 minutes in the first round, entertaining trade offers or making them.
The time between picks will stay at five minutes for the last five rounds, which will take place on Sunday. That session will start at 10 a.m. instead of 11 as it has in the past. Both days will be televised by ESPN and the NFL Network.
During the meeting, Goodell reinforced his position that electronic spying will not be tolerated. In September, he fined New England coach Bill Belichick $500,000 and the Patriots $250,000 after tapes of New York Jets defensive signals were confiscated from one of their employees on the sideline.
"I emphasized that it has a huge effect on the integrity of the game," he said.
On other issues:
• Goodell said owners still are considering changing the date and site of the Pro Bowl, although no vote was taken. The game, now played in Hawaii the week after the Super Bowl, could be changed to a site in the continental U.S. the week before the Super Bowl.
• The commissioner and Dallas owner Jerry Jones emphasized they are committed to the NFL Network even though a long-running dispute with three of the nation's biggest cable companies has limited its reach to 35 million homes instead of the 50 million the league expected at this point.
The dispute has intensified since last season, when the network started showing late-season games. Jones, the chairman of the NFL Network committee, said he had been getting numerous calls from areas which will not be able to see the Cowboys' Nov. 29 game with Green Bay, a contest between two of the NFC's top teams, because the cable companies in their areas don't get the network.
• Goodell met with Dean Spanos, president of the San Diego Chargers, to determine the site of the team's game Sunday with Houston. Qualcomm stadium, where the game is scheduled to be played, is being used as a staging area for people displaced by Southern California wildfires. The Chargers said they still are hoping to play at home, with other options in Arizona, Texas and Los Angeles.
Four years ago to the week, the Chargers were forced to move a Monday night game with Miami to Tempe, Ariz., on short notice because of deadly wildfires.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press