League could ease up on cel­e­bra­tion penal­ties

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Tom Pelis­sero @tom­pelis­sero USA TO­DAY Sports I NDIANAPOLIS

When NFL Com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell ap­peared in a Su­per Bowl week skit with co­me­dian Kee­gan-Michael Key about ex­ces­sive cel­e­bra­tion, it might have been a sign the league is open to do­ing more than get­ting in on the joke.

The NFL’s com­pe­ti­tion com­mit­tee has dis­cussed the league’s cel­e­bra­tion rules dur­ing its an­nual meet­ings at the scout­ing com­bine — a con­ver­sa­tion that’s slated to con­tinue Wed­nes­day dur­ing a joint ses­sion that in­cludes cur­rent and for­mer play­ers as well as rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the NFL Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, peo­ple with knowl­edge of the meet­ings told USA TO­DAY Sports.

And there is a strong sense that changes are com­ing to clar­ify the rules, fo­cus­ing in part on the du­ra­tion of some acts, which could ease pres­sure on of­fi­cials and re­verse the surge in cel­e­bra­tion fouls that brought a fresh round of com­plaints last sea­son about the “No Fun League.”

There were 30 so-called demon­stra­tion penal­ties in 2016 — up from 29 over the pre­vi­ous two sea­sons com­bined and just five in 2013, ac­cord­ing to data com­piled by the NFL and ob­tained by USA TO­DAY Sports.

In a meet­ing Mon­day, the com­pe­ti­tion com­mit­tee watched video of roughly 40 cel­e­bra­tions that drew fines last sea­son, said one of the peo­ple, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause the is­sue re­mains un­der dis­cus­sion. Though there was not con­sen­sus on all the cel­e­bra­tions, those that were pro­longed re­main a prob­lem for the com­mit­tee, in ad­di­tion to the ob­vi­ous no-nos of mim­ick­ing weapons or sex acts, ac­cord­ing to mul­ti­ple peo­ple in the meet­ing.

Good­ell made it clear un­sports­man­like con­duct was an area of em­pha­sis last sea­son, push­ing for a rule (ap­proved as a one-year ex­per­i­ment) that au­to­mat­i­cally ejected a player for two such vi­o­la­tions. As one of the peo­ple ex­plained, the in­ten­tion wasn’t to ramp up flags for cel­e­bra­tions, but of­fi­cials erred on the con­ser­va­tive side. That pat­tern, com­bined with play­ers con­tin­u­ing to push the lim­its, con­trib­uted to the es­ca­la­tion in cel­e­bra­tion in­frac­tions.

Scott Green, a for­mer NFL ref­eree who is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the NFL Ref­er­ees As­so­ci­a­tion, ac­knowl­edged dur­ing Su­per Bowl week that it was “get­ting kind of hard some­times to de­ter­mine” what ex­actly the league wanted called. Of­fi­cials want the rules to be clearly de­fined but would re­ally pre­fer the NFL en­force the rules through fines rather than flags.

“Got to give guys credit — they’re pretty cre­ative,” Green told USA TO­DAY Sports. “They take it right to the line, and then maybe they go over or they don’t. We would love as a group not to be deal­ing with cel­e­bra­tion is­sues. But that’s part of our ju­ris­dic­tion, and un­for­tu­nately we look like the bad guys when we throw the foul af­ter a guy goes 90 yards for the touch­down.”

Clar­i­fi­ca­tions to the ex­ist­ing rules — which out­law a list that in­cludes, but is not limited to, throat slash, ma­chine-gun salute, sex­u­ally sug­ges­tive ges­tures, pro­longed gy­ra­tions and stomp­ing on a team logo — would not nec­es­sar­ily re­quire a vote by the mem­ber­ship.

Good­ell and other league of­fi­cials have long cited the need to keep ten­sions from es­ca­lat­ing as rea­son for tight­en­ing cel­e­bra­tion rules. But last sea­son there were flags for, among other things, do­ing snow an­gels, hug­ging an of­fi­cial, shoot­ing the ball like a bas­ket­ball, jump­ing into an over­sized Sal­va­tion Army ket­tle and a va­ri­ety of quasi-chore­ographed dances.

In the so­cial me­dia age, orig­i­nal­ity quite lit­er­ally pays. Vi­ral video clips can mean en­dorse­ment dol­lars. So while cer­tain types of cel­e­bra­tions won’t ever gain ap­proval, es­ca­lat­ing the war on fun makes lit­tle sense, es­pe­cially as the NFL pon­ders its early-sea­son rat­ings dip and tries to find ways to keep reach­ing a younger gen­er­a­tion.

BRAD PEN­NER, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

The Gi­ants’ Odell Beck­ham Jr. is known for his cel­e­bra­tions.

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