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NFL plans to look at bigger playoffs, longer PATs

The Associated Press
NFL plans to look at bigger playoffs, longer PATs
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NEW YORK (AP) -- The NFL will discuss expanded playoffs at the owners' meetings next month in Atlanta.

Commissioner Roger Goodell told a gathering of Associated Press Sports Editors on Thursday that a vote is uncertain on the proposal to add two teams to the postseason. Should the owners vote on the increase in May, Goodell said the 14-team playoffs could be implemented for the upcoming season, or for 2015.

If no vote is taken, then 2015 would be the target for expanded playoffs, with a vote possible in October or next March.

The league also would need to consult with the players union on the matter, but it seems clear more playoff teams are on the way.

''We're being very deliberate about it,'' Goodell said. ''We want to make sure we do it in the right way.''

The NFL also will experiment with snapping the ball from the 15-yard line on extra points in the first two weeks of the preseason to make them more challenging. A kick from that distance would wind up being about 33 yards. Previously, the plan had been to experiment with moving kicks back to the 20.

But in conversations with the league's competition committee and various teams, officiating director Dean Blandino said it became apparent a 33-yard extra point was a wiser choice for the experiment.

Blandino added that veteran referees Scott Green and Ron Winter have retired, and will be replaced by Craig Wrolstad and Ronald Torbert. Wrolstad had been a field judge and Torbert was a side judge; both have college refereeing experience.

Two female officials will be working minicamps and preseason games: line judge Sarah Thomas and head linesman Maia Chaka. Both work in Conference USA. They are part of the league's officiating development program.

The NFL also hired the sons of two current officials: field judge Brad Freeman, the son of back judge Steve Freeman, a former player with Buffalo; and field judge Shawn Hochuli, son of referee Ed Hochuli.

Goodell and various other NFL executives were asked about the repercussions from the bullying incidents with the Miami Dolphins involving Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito.

''You never want to see any story that reflects on that we don't have the right workplace environment,'' Goodell said. ''We've redoubled our efforts to make sure we provide the right environment ... for everybody in the NFL.''

Blandino added that in an effort to have on-field action in which the players are respectful, there will be a heavy emphasis on reducing taunting. From 2012 to 2013, the number of taunting incidents increased from nine to 34.

''It's important having the right culture in place,'' added Robert Gulliver, the NFL's chief diversity officer. ''A culture of respect for the game, for each other, for coaches, officials and fans. We'll engage in positive training with the 32 clubs.''

Asked about the first openly gay player, Michael Sam of Missouri, soon entering the league, NFL football operations chief Troy Vincent said the league was looking forward to welcoming Sam into its ranks. Vincent, a star defensive back for 15 seasons and former president of the NFL Players Association, said he played with ''six openly gay players inside the locker room'' who did not publicly announce their sexual orientation.

''It worked, we won many football games,'' Vincent said. ''They were players, and we didn't see them any differently.''

NFL general counsel Jeff Pash said the league remains optimistic that a U.S. district judge will approve the $765 million concussion settlement with former players. The judge, Anita Brody, has expressed concerns the fund may not be large enough to cover up to 20,000 retired players for 65 years.

''We're confident we will get it done,'' Pash said. ''I think we're getting close to the point where we'll have a package that's satisfactory. Our overriding goal is that both sides get this structure in place so we can begin providing compensation to people who need it.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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