Scoring is up, and so are television ratings. There is almost no controversy over players kneeling for the national anthem – only three have been doing that – and the adjustment period for new officiating points of emphasis seems to be over.
All in all, life is good in the NFL these days.
“I don’t think there has been a better time to be an NFL fan,” commissioner Roger Goodell said at the conclusion of the owners’ two-day fall meetings in New York. “The quality of the games that we are having, the quality and the closeness of the competition, the extraordinary play of the offenses, which are at historic highs for the NFL.
“There are also future stars, so many good young players establishing themselves very quickly as great players and the excitement that comes with that,” he said. “We see all the fan metrics follow that. They are all very strong and showing tremendous growth, which is, I think, a reflection of the quality of the game itself and the play of our players and the work of our coaches.”
Owners spent plenty of time reviewing officiating issues, especially roughing the passer and calls regarding a new rule prohibiting players from initiating contact with the helmet anywhere on the field.
“There was talk on several occasions in the context of what the Competition Committee is looking to propose and implement and how to adjust to those rules,” Goodell said.
After early-season spikes in roughing-the-passer penalties and helmet-related infractions, the calls dropped off the past three weeks. So has the controversy surrounding the introduction of those newly enacted guidelines. There were 34 roughing calls the first three weeks and just 19 in the three weeks since the Competition Committee held a conference call with the league’s officiating department to review calls.
“[Coaches and players] always want consistency, but we will always have calls that are not clear,” Goodell said. “The focus of trying to protect defenseless players is something very important and we have a tremendous commitment to that."
There was no discussion among the owners about the anthem policy, a far cry from last year’s meeting, which drew national scrutiny in the wake of heavy criticism from President Donald Trump and many fans about players taking a knee to protest racial and social justice issues. The owners did review the progress of programs organized by the league and teams to address players’ concerns.
“The focus has been on the efforts the players have brought in their communities, and they are working on the issues to make their communities better,” Goodell said.
Owners adopted a measure in May requiring players to stand during the anthem, while offering those who didn’t want to participate the option of remaining in the locker room. The NFL Players Association vigorously opposed that plan, and the owners eventually put a hold on the policy and engaged in discussions with the players union. No formal policy has been agreed upon, and with the lack of controversy about the issue, there is a chance the league will take no further action for the foreseeable future.
“The focus [of the meetings] was on the competition and the game itself,” Goodell said.
The owners did change the league’s policy on cross-ownership. Under the previous guidelines, an NFL owner could own franchises in other sports, but only in the same city as the NFL team. That prohibition no longer exists, which means the owner of a team from a different sport in a different city can bid on any NFL team that is up for sale. For instance, Steve Ballmer, who purchased the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion, would be allowed to purchase an NFL team in a different market.
“This has been debated for 38 years,” Goodell said of the cross-ownership rules. “It’s about doing everything possible to attract the best ownership and to maintain the quality of ownership in the league.”