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NFL's Goodell says no plans to expand anytime soon

By Howard Fendrich
AP Pro Football Writer / February 3, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS—Sorry, Los Angeles. The only NFL expansion happening anytime soon is to next season's schedule of Thursday night games.

During his annual Super Bowl news conference, Commissioner Roger Goodell said Friday there hasn't been any discussion about adding to the league's 32 teams, and indicated he's not too keen about the idea of shifting a franchise, either.

"We have not talked about expansion in the league at all. It has not been on our agenda. It is not something we've focused on with our membership. And I don't see that in the foreseeable future," Goodell said. "We want to keep our teams where they are. We believe that's healthier for the league in the long term. We're working to get stadiums built and make sure we do whatever we can to make sure those teams are successful in those communities."

Los Angeles, the second-largest market in the U.S., has been without an NFL team since the Rams and Raiders both left after the 1994 season.

"We would like to be back in Los Angeles, if we can do it correctly," Goodell said. "There are a lot of issues that have to be balanced there."

He announced that every club will appear on prime-time TV in 2012, thanks in part to a new slate of Thursday games that now will be scheduled from Week 2 through Week 15. NBC will air a game on Thanksgiving night; the other 12 Thursdays will go on the NFL Network, which aired eight games in 2011.

"We think it's great for the fans, for the teams -- and great for the network," Goodell said.

He discussed a wide variety of issues during his 45-minute session with reporters, touching on topics such as concussions, testing players for human growth hormone, and games in England, Mexico and elsewhere.

Asked about an Associated Press story this week based on interviews with a dozen former players, including Hall of Fame member Tony Dorsett, who have filed lawsuits against the league related to concussions, Goodell said: "We have done a great deal to try to address issues that are specific to our former players. We will always make sure that player health and safety is the No. 1 priority in the NFL."

"We will not quit. We are not done yet. We're going to do what we possibly can to help our retired players, the current players and future players, by making the game safer," Goodell said.

"And we will do that with rules, we will do that by improving the equipment, and we will do it by making sure that we pioneer research that's going to make sure we understand all there is about brain injuries, brain disease, and make sure we're being responsible leaders."

Asked about a report that the language in player contracts might be changed to prohibit suing the league, Goodell replied: "In certain cases, a club and a player may have individual negotiations, but there is no league-wide effort to do that."

He pointed out this season's new kickoff rules meant to improve safety, saying injury rates were down, particularly for concussions.

Noting one possible change for next season, Goodell said the league likely will increase its use of replays to help team doctors assess possible injuries by putting TVs on every sideline. That's something the league began during the playoffs, in reaction to Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy going back into a December game after a helmet-to-helmet shot.

Goodell said the league also will consider having independent neurological doctors at games to examine players and determine if they should be held out because of concussions. When the AP interviewed a group of current players about that last year, 31 were in favor, and 10 against it.

"We're not going to relent on safety," he said, noting that it's important that "the medical decisions are always overriding competitive decisions."

Two hours later, at another news conference down the hall from where Goodell spoke, Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday said recent changes to concussion protocols are working.

"Awareness is helping," said Saturday, a member of the union's executive board. "I know players hate it, and we get fined. But if it saves a guy's wife from having to take care of him when he's 50 years old, I'm all for it. A guy's got to sit out."

Having the league impose a rule limiting hits in practice was necessary, Saturday said, because every coach has different philosophies. Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell, the Colts' last two coaches, didn't have their players hit a lot in practice. But Saturday said others, such as former Colts coach Jim Mora and former Jets and Browns coach Eric Mangini, never backed off.

"There's a lot of unknowns about brain injury and the brain itself," Goodell said. "We're all learning."

Other items addressed by Goodell on Friday:

-- The NFL would like to start testing for HGH this offseason; the league and players haven't been able to resolve an impasse even though the new, 10-year collective bargaining agreement added that performance-enhancer to the drug program. On Thursday, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said: "No one will bully us into a test."

"We have been working to try to address the issues the union has raised," Goodell said. "We believe the science is clear. I do not hear any dispute from scientists around the world on the fact that this test is valid and we have the basis to put in and implement an HGH test that is fair to the players. We expect to be able to do that."

-- Asked about complaints from the city of St. Louis about last month's announcement that the Rams will play one "home" game in London in each of the next three seasons, Goodell said: "We're going to play the London games. We hope it will be with the Rams and the New England Patriots next year. That's what we planned. ... But there are issues that obviously are going to have to get resolved. We know there are discussions going on. We hope that will get resolved shortly."

The league is looking into bringing a regular-season game back to Mexico, and would like to eventually consider other sites in Latin America. Similarly, if its current plans for games in London prove successful, other spots in Europe could get games.

-- All the buzz and speculation this week about injured Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who didn't play this season, doesn't bother Goodell, who said that hasn't been a distraction in the run-up to Sunday's game between the New York Giants and New England Patriots.

"I understand the interest," Goodell said.

As for whether Indianapolis might host another Super Bowl, Goodell said that's a possibility, because "they're doing a fantastic job."

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AP National Writer Nancy Armour and AP Sports Writer Joe Kay contributed to this report.

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Howard Fendrich can be reached at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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