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NFL ready to clamp down on taunting during games

League says it will curb the problem with stronger enforcement of existing rules, not approving new ones.

The Seahawks' Richard Sherman reaches out to shake hands with the 49ers' Michael Crabtree. (Matt Slocum/AP file)
The Seahawks' Richard Sherman reaches out to shake hands with the 49ers' Michael Crabtree. (Matt Slocum/AP file)Read more

ORLANDO, Fla. - While much has been said and written about changing the locker-room culture in the NFL in the wake of last season's Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin mess, the league is even more determined to change the culture on the field.

The league's owners, coaches and general managers spent a good portion of the last 3 days of their annual meeting discussing the lack of respect and sportsmanship by the players.

The number of taunting penalties nearly quadrupled this season, jumping from nine in 2012 to 34 in 2013. Rams coach Jeff Fisher, of the league's competition committee, said the number easily could have been much higher.

"We have an issue on the field," Fisher said. "And we have agreed that we are going to get it under control as soon as we possibly can.

"We're going to effect change immediately. We have to change the conduct on the field. We have to bring the element of respect to its highest level back to our game."

The NFC Championship Game was marred by Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman's nationally televised rant against 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree in a postgame interview with Fox's Erin Andrews.

"We're going to clean up the game on the field between the players," Fisher said. "The in-your-face taunting, those types of things. The language. It's all in the [rulebook]. It's all under unsportsmanlike conduct. There's no change in the rules. We're going to enforce the current rule.

"The committee's position in the past on this has been in the back of the book under points of emphasis. It is now in the front of the book. It is now a front-of-the-book issue. What we want to do is be able to put it back in the back of the book."

Fisher said the NCAA is looking to the NFL to take the lead in cracking down on taunting and disrespectful on-the-field behavior.

"The colleges are hoping for us to do something at our level," he said. "We have to take the lead and we're going to do that."

Rule changes approved

The owners passed three rule-change proposals yesterday before adjourning their meeting. They added recovery of a loose ball in the field of play (see: NaVorro Bowman's fumble recovery in the NFC Championship Game) to the list of plays that can be reviewed by the replay system.

They also voted to extend the goalpost uprights from 30 to 35 feet and allow the clock to continue running after a sack.

Some of the proposals that were not approved: moving the kickoff line from the 35-yard line to the 40, allowing replay to include personal fouls, and another proposal submitted by the Patriots that would have made all plays in a game reviewable.

Speedier replay reviews

On Tuesday, the owners voted to allow the on-field referee to consult with the league's officiating department during replay reviews this season. Dean Blandino, the league's head of officiating, said the new process should speed up replay delays.

"We expect it to speed up the process and be more efficient, in that we can communicate with the referee as soon as he's done making the [replay challenge] announcement," he said. "We can start that conversation as to what he's going to look at and what he's going to see. So there won't be that delay of getting over to the monitor, putting that headset on and having a 45-second discussion."

Goodell On Vick

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was instrumental in facilitating Michael Vick's return to the league 5 years ago after Vick was released from federal prison.

Asked yesterday for his feelings on the admirable way Vick has handled himself the last 5 years, Goodell said: "Michael is a young man who made a tragic mistake. He paid a very heavy price for it, but I've seen him, in everthing he's done, exceed expectations.

"He has worked very hard to be a positive force in a lot of different areas. That's something I admire about him. When we went through the process of reviewing whether he would come back into the league, he demonstrated that he was somebody who was committed to saying, 'I am going to do this the right way. I am going to be a positive force.' He has, and I'm proud of the work he's done."

Playoff expansion

Expanding the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams was discussed by the owners. There's a good possibility two teams could be added for the 2015 playoffs.

"I think there's a tremendous amount of interest [in expanding the playoffs], even to the point of support," Goodell said. "But there also are things we still want to make sure we do right."

The issue will be discussed further at the league's spring meeting in May in Atlanta.

Blog: eagletarian.com