Gene Collier: Who knows where the NFL is going


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NEW YORK -- Allow me to save the participants in some future NFL commissioner’s Super Bowl news conference a lot of trouble with this observation gleaned from sitting through too many of them.

As soon as there’s a Super Bowl on the moon, the planets are going to want in on the action, you can be sure of that. Mercury, you can forget it. You’ve got no atmosphere. Yes literally, no atmosphere. Jupiter, you’re out. You’ve got no surface. Let Nike try designing a shoe for that. Venus, according to the website Universe Today, has an atmosphere composed of thick clouds of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, creating a strong greenhouse effect, not terribly unlike North Jersey, so Venus has a shot. And now that New York has put cold-weather places on the Super Bowl track, Uranus can’t be ruled out, but that average temperature of minus-371 could be a hard sell.

Aside from answering the nearly 30 percent of the questions Friday that focused on where the NFL might be going, either with a Super Bowl or a franchise or even just an exhibition game from Mexico to Los Angeles to Brazil, Roger Goodell did manage to address some issues that matter to fans in cities where the game actually exists.

Such as whether places such as Green Bay, San Diego and Cincinnati flirting with blackouts in the ramp up to wild-card weekend is the hardest evidence yet that the in-stadium experience can no longer match the NFL on TV.

(Reality check: That has been true for a long time, but now it might actually be threatening the size and quality of the studio audience.)

“I don’t take the challenges that we had on wild-card weekend as any reflection of our fans’ passion,” Goodell said. “Those were mistakes that were made by us, the NFL, and our clubs. What we have to do is recognize that technology has changed and that we have to use technology more efficiently and more intelligently to make sure we don’t put our fans in that kind of position. Green Bay, as an example, sold close to 50,000 tickets over a five-day period, including New Year’s Day. We shouldn’t be in that position, and that’s on us, and we have to fix it, and we will. But that is not an indication in any way of the fans’ passion.

“But this is an ongoing challenge. With the experiences at home through our broadcast partners and all the other media alternatives that we have, it’s an incredible experience and it will continue to get better as technology advances. What we have to do is say, ‘That’s a great experience, but let’s make the most important experience and the best experience, which is our stadium experience, better.’ [Getting] technology into the stadiums is a big part of it. Making people feel safe when they’re in our facilities is a critical component. But there is nothing like being in the stadium for an NFL game.”

Well, that’s true. Where else, after all, can you wait around helplessly to find out if that thrilling touchdown you just saw was actually a touchdown? What better slice of Americana could there be, truly, than an excited youngster asking his or her parent as they enter an NFL stadium, “Gee, do you think we’ll really see referee Ed Hochuli go under the hood?”

That the stadium crowd losses all the comforts of home in exchange for the privilege of wildly overpaying for tickets, concessions, parking, etc. has long been obvious. But the added irritant has to do with replay. The home audience gets to have the replay analyzed from every angle while the broadcasters give it the full Zapruder treatment. The live audience pretty much just sits there, often tempting frostbite.

The officials themselves, thanks in no small part to replay, remain skittish, sometimes running into committee meetings rather than make an indication that could come back to embarrass them.

“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, fairness in our officiating, and we believe that we might be able to achieve more consistency when we bring instant replay with us — more of a centralized version and decision-making process — and that’s something the competition committee is going to consider over the next two months and come back to a recommendation for the membership.

“I do believe there’s a possibility that some version of that will occur, where our office can at least be involved with the decision. May not make the decision, but can at least provide some input that would be helpful to the officials on the field to make sure they’re seeing every angle, to make sure they have the proper opportunity to make the best decision.”

In some other housekeeping, the commissioner said he didn’t anticipate any change on the league’s policy regarding marijuana (“Still an illegal substance on a national basis.”) and let us know that polling done for the league indicates that nine out of every 10 Native Americans supports the Washington Redskins nickname, and that eight of every 10 Americans don’t want the name changed.

So wait, more non-Native Americans are offended by the Redskins nickname than Native Americans are offended by it? Yeah, that makes sense. They’ll get a kick out of that one on the moon.


Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.

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