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Automatic ejection after 2 unsportsmanlike penalties gaining momentum

Josh Norman #24 of the Carolina Panthers mixes

Josh Norman #24 of the Carolina Panthers mixes it up with Odell Beckham #13 of the New York Giants after a play in the first half at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015 in East Rutherford, N.J. Credit: Jim McIsaac

INDIANAPOLIS — There is growing momentum within the NFL for a new rule that would result in an automatic ejection of a player if he is called for two unsportsmanlike penalties in a game.

Two competition committee members and the NFL’s director of officiating told Newsday Wednesday that intensive discussions have taken place about the potential rules change, and that owners could vote on a measure as soon as March, when they have their annual meetings in Florida.

Another controversial topic being considered by the NFL — how to define a catch — likely won’t be resolved with a major rules revision. Despite the formation of two committees to examine the NFL’s catch rule, no change is expected, according to people studying the issue.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suggested the idea of a player facing ejection for two personal foul calls, in part as a response to a Giants-Panthers game in which Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was called for three personal fouls, the last of which resulted in him launching himself headfirst into cornerback Josh Norman’s helmet.

“There very well could be something on this, although it’s still under discussion,” said Giants president and co-owner John Mara, a member of the competition committee.

Packers president Mark Murphy, another competition committee member, said there is “a sense that this is an important issue, in the context of concussions and concern about the safety of the game. We’re really looking at it hard. But there are some unintended consequences that we’re concerned about.”

Murphy said he hopes to narrow the types of penalties that would be included in potential ejections.

Direction of officiating Dean Blandino said “it’s just trying to figure out what the rule would look like, what would constitute a foul where two of them would create a disqualification.”

The “catch rule” is not expected to change, despite intense scrutiny on what exactly constitutes a catch. In the wake of a controversial decision that ruled Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant did not have possession of the ball on a critical fourth-quarter play in a 2014 playoff game, the NFL is expected to keep the rule as is for at least the 2016 season.

“There’s not enough support [for changing the rule],” Mara said. “We’re still discussing it. We’ve gone through two committees already, and there wasn’t a lot of support. We’ve looked at every play imaginable, and we don’t think we can improve it by changing the language.”

According to the current rule, “A player who goes to the ground in the process of attempting to secure possession of a loose ball [with or without contact by an opponent] must maintain control of the ball until after his contact with the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, there is no possession. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, it is a catch, interception, or recovery.”

Blandino said that not changing the rule “seems to be the sense we’re getting, but nothing is going to be finalized until we get to Florida [for the owners meetings].”

Blandino said that current and former players who are part of a new committee to examine the catch rule “get it” after looking at tapes of catches and non-catches. “We have to continue to show these examples and talk about it,” he said.

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