Goodell tackles some questions

Fans at Gillette grill commissioner

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / December 20, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — NFL commissioner Roger Goodell met with 150 Patriots season ticket-holders before last night’s game for a question-and-answer session that showed the 18-game schedule is one of the things prominent in their thoughts.

It was the 12th time this year that Goodell has held such a chat. He also met with fans at the Pro Bowl, during his training camp tour with John Madden, and before the Buccaneers-49ers game in London this season.

Goodell received at least three questions on the “enhanced’’ season, as the league likes to call it, with one fan saying he didn’t want two regular-season games added because of the further risk of injuries, citing the 26 players the Patriots and Packers have placed on injured reserve this season.

Another fan was concerned that extra games would mean those toward the end of the season would be meaningless, with teams already in the playoffs not giving full effort in those final weeks.

“We spend an awful lot of time on [the 18-game schedule]. For fans, the No. 1 issue is they don’t like preseason games,’’ Goodell said, leading to some applause. “What it is, is about the quality of what we do . . . but you can’t do that without consideration for player health and safety. We are looking at offseason training, training camp, in-season training.’’

As for the idea that games at the end of the schedule might become as meaningless as those preseason games the league aims to eliminate, Goodell pointed to a change the NFL made this year.

“We moved a lot of division games to the end of the season. At the end of the day, you want to see meaningful games,’’ he said.

Twice Goodell mentioned the issue of playoff seeding may be evaluated, where the teams with the best records, regardless of whether they win their divisions, would host a first-round playoff game. Currently, the four division winners host at least one postseason game, and this year, the NFC West winner will finish no better than 8-8 and host a game, while New Orleans, which has 10 wins but likely will be a wild-card team, would have to go on the road.

Sitting next to Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Goodell was asked by one fan what the three biggest issues are facing the owners and the players’ union in talks for a new collective bargaining agreement. Goodell didn’t give specifics, saying instead that any agreement has to be fair to all parties.

After chatting with reporters, Goodell wouldn’t give a status on talks, but did elaborate a bit on some of the potential sticking points.

“In any negotiation you have economics, clearly,’’ he said. “You have a rookie [salary] pool system, which we think needs to be addressed; we can shift some of that money to proven veterans and retired players. We think the 18-and-2 or addressing the preseason games is something that needs to get addressed in that context. There are several issues, including our drug program. I’m a big believer that part of my job is the integrity of the game, and we have to make sure we have the best drug program in sports.

“These negotiations aren’t about winning. If the two parties will give a little, it will benefit everyone a lot, especially the fans, so it’s something we’re going to continue to focus on. No negotiation is successful if one party gets everything they want. It’s what you need and it’s about creating a system that works for everybody.’’

One Patriots-specific question for Goodell had to do with Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff’s comments on Chicago radio last week, when he said Patriots players line up on the sideline as a means of trying to impede opposing players on punt returns.

Goodell was asked if it is against league rules to make a statement such as Westhoff’s, and whether he could face discipline.

“It’s something that we’re looking into, our staff has been looking into and I expect to get a report within the next day or so,’’ he said, adding there would be some sort of punishment “if there’s a violation of the policy.’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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