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NFL plans fines for fines

Teams face costs for flagrant hits

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / May 25, 2011

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INDIANAPOLIS — National Football League teams will face fines next season if their players are fined too many times for flagrant hits.

Adolpho Birch, the league’s vice president of law and labor policy, briefed owners on the new plan yesterday at their annual spring meeting.

The league wants teams to be more accountable for on-field conduct. In 2007, the NFL introduced a plan to fine teams for multiple conduct violations. League spokesman Greg Aiello said teams have been fined since the policy was instituted but declined to name them.

Under the new plan, which is still being worked out, there will be a threshold on the number of flagrant penalties that result in player fines, after which teams would be fined.

“We are looking at a system . . . to really encourage clubs and coaches to teach the proper techniques and to correct dangerous play on the field,’’ Birch said.

The penalties would be “significant and reasonable,’’ and Birch said it would be within the discretion of commissioner Roger Goodell to dole out further punishment.

Birch said that under the new rules, three or four teams would have been subject to the additional fines last year.

Some may dub this the Pittsburgh Steelers Rule because they were fined multiple times last season. Linebacker James Harrison alone accumulated $100,000 in fines.

“I think we would have been one the teams included under the proposal,’’ said Steelers owner Art Rooney II.

But Rooney isn’t sure the new system will clean up some of the questionable hits.

“It could, it’s hard to say,’’ Rooney said. “We’ll have to see how it goes.’’

Three of the violations that players can be fined for were modified with unanimous votes.

The first concerns the defenseless player rule. It now includes language to cover players who have not clearly become runners after gaining possession.

“If the receiver/runner is capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact of an opponent, he is no longer a defenseless player,’’ the rule now states.

Kickers, punters, and quarterbacks after a change of possession are also now considered defenseless players.

The second change covers defenders launching themselves and now states: “It is an illegal launch if a player (1) leaves both feet prior to contact to spring forward and upward into his opponent, and (2) uses any part of his helmet to initiate forcible contact against any part of his opponent’s body.’’

The third change clarifies the rule that makes hits to the head of the quarterback illegal. It will be a foul only if it is a “forcible’’ blow.

“There were a number of plays this year that I don’t think any of us were comfortable with as fouls, so the contact to the quarterback’s head has to be forcible,’’ said Rich McKay, the chairman of the Competition Committee. “That will lead to judgment.

“We’re putting a little on the referee here, but we think we’ve got good video to show the referee what we want called and what we don’t want called.

“The bottom line is if you strike the quarterback with any force in the helmet, it is a penalty.’’

The NFL officially canceled this year’s rookie symposium as a result of the lockout. In the past, the event has been mandatory for all draft picks; it aids in their assimilation into professional life.

“It really is a large production and we just felt that we had gotten to the point, based on the uncertainty that we have in labor right now, where we needed to be fair to those that would be asked to come and help us put it on,’’ Birch said. “Given that, we thought we needed to make a decision, and this is about as late as we could do it.’’

The education of rookies will now fall solely to the teams.

“It’s going to be incumbent on teams to do more,’’ Birch said. “Our office will also try to assist the clubs in formulating alternatives.

“It’s unfortunate, we think the rookie symposium is an outstanding event, but it is an unfortunate casualty of where we are right now.’’

If the league does not operate next season under a collective bargaining agreement, it could turn to the World Anti-Doping Agency to administer its drug testing.

“We thought our system worked well,’’ Birch said. “Up until recently, we had full support, participation, and input from the players. In the absence of that, we need to look for ways to administer our policy in a way that keeps it as effective as we think it has been to date.

“From a procedural standpoint, we need to look at those options. [WADA] would be one option.’’

Birch does not feel the number of drug tests would increase significantly if WADA were involved.

NFL Coaches Association director Larry Kennan said yesterday he apologized to the Green Bay Packers for incorrectly stating that the team had implemented pay cuts for its football staff.

In a story that ran in Sunday’s Globe, Kennan twice said the Packers were among those teams that had already docked the pay of assistant coaches.

“That information I provided was incorrect,’’ Kennan said. “I called the team and apologized, and want to get the record set straight. The Packers have not withheld any pay and have no plans to do so.’’

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard.

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