NFL competition committee tables vote on key rule change until Wednesday
March 23, 2016 12:00 AM
NFL owners delayed making a decision on whether players, such as Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict, should be ejected after getting two personal foul penalties in the same game.
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BOCA RATON, Fla. — NFL owners have tabled until today a possible vote on a proposal that would cause any player who gets two egregious personal fouls in a game to be automatically ejected.
Or, they might wait until they meet again in May to do so, said Steelers president Art Rooney II.
The delay is curious because it would appear most coaches, including both who are most centrally tied to the potential rule change, want to see the measure approved. Otherwise, who knows what will happen the next time the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals meet on the playing field.
“The goal is obviously not to eject people from the game,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “The goal is to change the behavior.”
“I think it will increase the respect of the game, the respect for each other, the respect for the players, which is what we’re looking for,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said.
Tomlin and Lewis serve on the league’s competition committee that is proposing the rule and pushing to quell, if not eliminate, what happened in two games between the Steelers and Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium last season. The latter ended with two personal fouls against linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam Jones at the end of one play that cost the Bengals a wild-card playoff victory.
But it’s not just that game. The nasty exchanges between Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman and New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in a Dec. 20 game also is a large part of the impetus for the proposed rule change.
The league is seeking to end that nonsense by adopting a rule that would immediately cause players who continue to play dirty to be ejected.
“I am a proponent of it,” Tomlin said Tuesday during the annual AFC coaches breakfast at the Boca Raton Resort and Club. “I think that we have to continually work to increase sportsmanship in the game. That’s something that draws a hard line. I don’t anticipate a lot of guys being ejected, to be quite honest with you. I anticipate a behavioral change. I think that’s what we are looking for in the rule.
“We want better sportsmanship. We want to change the behavior. We don’t want to toss people out of the games. Likewise, I don’t anticipate players wanting to be tossed out of the games, so I think they are going to quickly adjust in the ways they have adjusted in other areas, relative to rule changes that have cleaned the game up.”
Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee, said there were 75 unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties in 2015, the most the league has had in one season. Over the past 10 years, McKay said the league average was 46 a year.
He noted the ill behavior of NFL players also is having an adverse effect on college players, as well.
“As the college representative at our competition committee meeting said to us, the way our players conduct themselves is the way their players want to conduct themselves,” McKay said. “So, when games get as chippy as some of our games got this year, and that number gets to 75, we need to emphasize it.”
The Steelers and Bengals combined for 330 penalty yards in the final two meetings, both in Cincinnati, including 221 yards on 18 penalties in the Jan. 9 wild-card playoff game. That included 12 penalties for either unnecessary roughness (7) or unsportsmanlike conduct (5). Burfict had two of the unnecessary roughness penalties, including the helmet hit on Antonio Brown with 22 seconds remaining that led to the winning Chris Boswell field goal.
Because of his repeated behavior in those games and a penalized hit on Baltimore Ravens tight end Maxx Williams in between, Burfict was suspended by the NFL for three games to start the 2016 season.
Does Lewis expect that nastiness between the teams to continue in 2016?
“No, not that way,” he said. “I expect the rivalry to continue.”
Lewis said he’s not worried about the Bengals losing their aggressiveness because of the proposed new rule. He said aggressive play doesn’t necessarily mean players are dirty or are involved in fights.
“I coached the best player on defense in the NFL for a long time, and he didn’t get in any fights,” said Lewis, referring to Ray Lewis, whom he coached when he was defensive coordinator with the Ravens. “Nobody ever fought him. No, I don’t think that’s true.”
Gerry Dulac: email@example.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.
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