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Competition committee proposes rules changes

A week in Maui was anything but a vacation for the NFL's competition committee.

KAPALUA, Hawaii (March 22, 2005) -- A week in Maui was anything but a vacation for the NFL's competition committee.

The eight voting members of the committee, headed by Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher and Atlanta Falcons general manager Rich McKay, are making 19 rules proposals to the owners at the annual meetings. Several are controversial enough to cause some vehement debate.

Among the proposals are: adopting the college rule for 15-yard defensive pass interference penalties rather than continuing with spot fouls -- unless the foul was within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage; eliminating peel-back blocks below the waist outside the tackle box; and extending replay challenges to cover fumbles on plays already whistled by officials because the ball carrier was down by contact.

The committee also seeks to eliminate "horse-collar tackles," where the defender grabs the ball carrier inside the back of the shoulder pads and immediately drags him down while also falling on his legs. Such tackles would be deemed unsportsmanlike conduct, a 15-yard penalty.

"We want to eliminate dangerous plays that lead to injuries," Fisher said. "We looked at all injury tapes and 90 percent of lower extremity injuries, eight or nine could've been avoided. Four or five were associated with this type of technique.

"We're not singling out Roy Williams ," Fisher added of the Dallas safety whose horse-collaring of Terrell Owens broke the leg and damaged the ankle of the Eagles' star receiver. "We're singling out a technique."

Fisher said he doesn't favor the college rule on pass interference, a proposal made by the Chiefs.

"I believe it will encourage lots of penalties," he said, emphasizing interference would happen too often on downfield plays.

Defensive pass interference beyond 15 yards that is considered flagrant will make the penalty a spot foul, McKay said. That, in theory, should prevent intentional tackles of receivers by a defender who is badly beaten on a long pass. But Fisher said he isn't so sure.

"It will have a dramatic effect on the passing game," he said.

Kansas City also suggests 5-yard illegal contact penalties not carry an automatic first down for the offense.

Perhaps the most contentious suggestion by the committee concerns the instant replay for down-by-contact plays. So the committee is proposing just a one-year experimentation.

There were less than 20 situations over the last two seasons where the down-by-contact call was incorrect. But because it can involve a change of possession, the committee felt it was worth being challengeable.

"If this passes," Fisher said, "the referee would be able to look at the play through recovery (of the ball). If he could not see clearly the recovery, the offense would retain the ball."

Another replay change would be the elimination of the buzzer system, which McKay and Fisher both comically mentioned abuses by certain coaches to slow down the run of play. No longer will coaches be able to claim the buzzer went off accidentally because they won't be hooked up; only by throwing the red flag onto the field will they be able to alert officials about a challenge.

"If you throw the flag and don't have any more challenges or timeouts," McKay added, "it will be a (15-yard) penalty."

Another proposal will protect a player who is out of a play from being blindsided, a tactic often used against kickers or punters, or against quarterbacks after an interception.

New England proposed positioning two TV cameras at each goal line to assist coaches on whether to challenge a play, and to aid the referee when examining an instant replay.

The competition committee also suggests penalizing a team for calling a second timeout in the same dead ball situation. It will be considered unsportsmanlike conduct, a 15-yard penalty.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue told the owners that talks to extend the collective bargaining agreement with the players are "at a dead end."

While Tagliabue would not concede that internal squabbles have stalled talks, it was evident from owners that the simmering contention between high-revenue and low-revenue teams has contributed as much to the impasse as a division between the union and the league.

"The union is asking for a lot of money," said Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the have-not teams. "We can't get to that because of where we are among ourselves."

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