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Rules an issue at meetings

Super Bowl sites also a topic as owners meetings begin today; officials say the NFL is in good shape.

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 17, 2002


ORLANDO -- The NFL has heard your complaints and promises to try to do something about them.

Four rules, including the controversial "tuck" rule, will be among the issues addressed at the annual NFL owners meeting that begins today at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress hotel near Disney World.

League officials also plan to discuss playing the Super Bowl in East Rutherford, N.J., or Washington, improving sportsmanship and possibly purchasing a minority interest in the Arena Football League.

In general, league officials say the game is in good shape. They said scoring (40.4 points a game) and the pace of games (average length is three hours and four minutes) are acceptable.

But a few things may need tweaking.

For instance, the tuck rule became a huge issue after the Raiders-Patriots playoff game when New England quarterback Tom Brady, looking to pass with his team trailing 13-10 in the final two minutes, appeared to fumble as he tried to tuck the ball and avoid a hit. The play initially was ruled a fumble, but after reviewing it, officials changed it to an incomplete pass and the Patriots went on to win in overtime, infuriating the Raiders and confusing fans.

Bucs general manager Rich McKay, who heads the league's competition committee, said while there's been plenty of discussion about the rule, the committee isn't sure the rule needs tweaking.

"I wouldn't say as a committee we're even close to agreeing that the rule should be changed," McKay said.

Another hot topic will be the buzzer system that officials in the replay booth use to notify officials on the field that a play needs to be reviewed. The system came under fire after a December game between Cleveland and Jacksonville that was marred by a bottle-throwing fracas.

On fourth down and with time running out in the game, the Browns appeared to complete a pass for a first down, then hurried to the line and spiked the ball to stop the clock. But just as the ball was spiked, on-field officials said they were buzzed by the replay booth, which needed to review the pass completion.

Replays showed the pass was incomplete, but the Browns argued that the play should not have been reviewed because officials didn't signal a review until after the next play had been run. League officials later blamed the problem on an electronic delay between the replay booth buzzer and the on-field official's buzzer.

The committee is working to improve the equipment but might have to accept a slightly flawed system, McKay said.

"There was some talk of should there be some public display of when a challenge is initiated, but looking at it from a logistical standpoint, we just found that to be unworkable, so I don't think there will be any great change there," McKay said. "It's just not going to be perfect. That one play just looks bad. I don't know that we can in this system make it better than that."

McKay said there also will be discussion about clarifying the intentional grounding rule and putting limits on when piped-in noise, such as music and simulated crowd sounds, can be used while the visiting team is on the field.

This past season several visiting teams complained about blaring music and noise during games, mostly in domed stadiums, that hindered their ability to call plays.

McKay said teams likely will be told to refrain from using piped-in noise while the visiting team is on the field with the clocking running.

"This has nothing to do with fans cheering or flashing 'Defense, defense' on the message board," McKay said.

The idea of having New York City or Washington host a Super Bowl comes from commissioner Paul Tagliabue in the wake of the terrorist attacks in those cities.

To make it work, the league would have to bend its 50-degree minimum weather rule for Super Bowl sites.

League spokesman Joe Browne said he didn't think there would be a vote on the 50-degree rule this week.

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