Indianapolis, IN – Armed with labor peace for the next 10 years, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell discussed a number of topics Friday in his annual state of the league address.
Last year's session with the assembled media centered around the impending collective bargaining talks with the union. After a work stoppage was averted in the summer and in the wake of another successful 2011 campaign, player safety was at the forefront on Friday, while Goodell also spoke about recent rumors of expansion and more prime time games for the NFL Network.
"We are focused now on how to improve every area of the game, from the game on the field to the fan experience and everything in between," Goodell said as part of an opening statement before fielding questions for about an hour.
The prevention and treatment of concussions, as well as other ways to make the game less dangerous is paramount for Goodell and the league. There have been numerous concussion lawsuits filed by former players in recent weeks.
"We will always make sure player safety is a main focus," Goodell said. "We will continue to address medical issues. We will try to help our retired players, current players and future players by making the game safer."
Goodell said the league is using sideline replays to help doctors in their medical evaluations during the playoffs and indicated that it is a practice that will likely continue during the 2012 regular season.
"We're not going to relent on safety," Goodell added later, saying "medical decisions will override competitive decisions."
The commissioner said the league was at the forefront of concussion-related injuries and is always gathering more information.
"We're all learning [about brain injuries]," he noted. "What I'm proud of is the NFL's leading the way. This is a serious injury and needs to be taken seriously, not just in football, but in all sports."
Speculation about potential expansion is just that, Goodell noted, despite his remarks on Thursday that indicated the league would grow by two teams if it ever did consider the issue.
"We have not talked about expansion in the league at all," Goodell said. "It is not on our agenda. I do not see that in the foreseeable future. We want our teams to remain where they are."
He did, however, speak about the league's desire to return to Los Angeles, although whether that was through expansion or an existing team relocating was not clear.
"We've got to find a way to make it work for both parties," he said, adding that labor peace and the new television deals have made the concept more realistic. "We would like to be back in Los Angeles if we can do it correctly. I think that the [labor and TV] foundation can be helpful for coming back to LA. We now have a runway for 10 years. We know what our labor situation is and we know what our TV situation is."
As for television, Goodell announced that the league is expanding its schedule of games on the NFL Network from eight to 13 for next season. It will include more Thursday night games earlier in the season.
"We think that's great for fans and for teams to get that prime time exposure," he said.
Another question was raised about the potential of expanding the Monday night schedule to doubleheaders, but Goodell said that has not been considered.
As for expanding the season to 18 games, one of the roadblocks in the latest CBA talks last summer, Goodell continued to say it would have to be discussed again with the union.
Goodell noted that Indianapolis has been a wonderful host for this week's festivities and was asked about future Super Bowl sites, including more cold weather cities. The New York City area will host a Super Bowl in two years and the commissioner said the league would wait to add any potential non-domed cold weather sites until after the first one takes place.
"I'm a big believer the game is played in all elements," Goodell said. "It's a great part of our history. There's another side that believes when you get to the Super Bowl, the elements shouldn't play a part."
Other topics included the league's desire for more stadium upgrades or new construction, similar to Thursday's announcement of a new building for the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara. Goodell hoped the league could help San Diego with its desire for a new building.
Testing for human growth hormone, which the union agreed to in the new CBA, could begin this offseason. It was expected to start during the 2011 season, but the union balked at the testing process.
Goodell said the two sides have had recent positive discussions regarding the subject and those would continue in the coming weeks.
There wasn't much talk about the sometimes acrimonious labor issues from the summer, but it was brought to the commissioner's attention that the teams of two of the men who played such a big role in the outcome -- Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Giants co-owner John Mara -- were in the Super Bowl.
"Those two individuals deserve a lot of respect and appreciation," he stated.