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The NFL Pro Bowl will return to Aloha Stadium next year, but Hawaii's "nearly exclusive hold on the NFL all-star game over four decades may be loosening," according to Ferd Lewis of the HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday at the conclusion of the league's owners meeting said, "Our agreement with Hawaii is just for the coming year, but I would expect that we will continue to be in Hawaii on some kind of rotational basis." Lewis noted outside of the '10 game, when it was "experimentally packaged with the Super Bowl in South Florida, Hawaii has hosted the Pro Bowl every year since 1980." The NFL previously has said that it will "consider similar packages in the future (HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER, 3/21). ESPN's John Clayton reported NFL owners this week “discussed numerous changes in the game, including one in which the selected players would be involved in a ‘pickup game’ concept.” Goodell said that the system for choosing which players participate in the Pro Bowl “won't change, but some consideration has been given to having team captains select their rosters, rather than an AFC vs. NFC format." But a source “questioned whether the owners would go for such a different idea.” This format would include team captains "picking the players for their teams," and the selection process “could be involved in a television show a week or so prior to the Pro Bowl" (ESPN.com, 3/20). Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said, "I like the idea of moving it around and I like the drafting of players. I think people would tune in for that.” L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke: "The league is trying to stay ahead of the curve on this and trying to fill the stands up. Good for the league” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 3/20).
RULES ARE RULES: The AP’s Barry Wilner reported the NFL is “looking to make the Rooney Rule more effective," and that one focal point will be "reinstating a symposium program that was primarily focused on coaches.” Goodell said that the symposium “likely will have some potential GM candidates also attend.” One team “suggested to Goodell there needs to be more flexibility in the interviewing process.” Teams still involved in the playoffs are “very reluctant to grant permission to interview their personnel, although the NFL has established a small window for those interviews early in the postseason” (AP, 3/20). Meanwhile, in Boston, Shalise Manza Young notes the NFL's "tuck rule" yesterday at the owners meeting was "stricken from the rule book by a 29-1 vote.” The Steelers “voted against eliminating the rule, and the Redskins joined the Patriots as teams abstaining.” The Raiders “showed some good humor Wednesday when the message, ‘Adios, Tuck Rule,’ was posted on the team’s Twitter page after the results became public” (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/21).
SAFETY IS THE TOP PRIORITY: The NFL yesterday passed a new rule banning runners from lowering their head and using the crown of the helmet to hit defenders. NFL Network’s Andrew Siciliano said, “There are some who think that the new helmet rule will change the game.” The vote to approve the new rule was 31-1, with the Bengals the only team to vote against it. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said team Owner Mike Brown “feels like we in some ways are moving too fast in making change." Lewis: "What he would like to see happen is us be more proactive to talk about the positives and how we have made changes and continue to further player safety and how safe the game is becoming as opposed to keep going the opposite direction.” But Falcons President Rich McKay said, "We're not looking for places in which there's incidental contact with the helmet. We're looking for places where players decided in the open field, outside of the tackle box, that they're going to deliver a blow by lowering their head and using the crown of the helmet." Texans President Rick Smith: "Our players understand that we are committed to their health and their safety" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 3/20).
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said the fact that former AEG President & CEO Tim Leiweke is no longer involved in the push to bring the NFL back to L.A. is “definitely a setback," according to Sam Farmer of the L.A. TIMES. Carroll: “He’s been an extraordinary factor in this, and he’s been iconic in L.A. So where he settles will be really fascinating to see. I think the emphasis and heart and soul he put into bringing the NFL to L.A. will be definitely missed. He was so into it.” He added, “If somebody wants to try to figure out how to get an NFL team in L.A., they’d better talk to Tim, because he knows the ins and outs better than anybody.” Farmer noted Carroll and Leiweke are “longtime friends, and it was Tim’s brother, Tod, former president of the Seahawks, who hired Carroll in Seattle.” Carroll said, “I think (Tim Leiweke’s departure) is definitely a setback in the process.” But Carroll conceded that there is “little apparent urgency on the league’s behalf to return to the nation’s second largest market" (LATIMES.com, 3/20).
NHL players yesterday made the "first significant move" during the league's GM meetings, "acknowledging that safety is an issue and agreeing to take the matter of mandatory visors for players coming into the league to a vote," according to Kevin McGran of the TORONTO STAR. Under the proposed idea, current NHLers who do not wear visors would have the "right to remain visor-free as the new policy is grandfathered in." Meanwhile, as the league’s 30 GMs "wound up nearly eight hours of talks, it was clear there was little consensus about the many issues dogging the league." But oversized goalie equipment is "one issue that will be tackled by next season." Also, NHL GMs "like the idea of hybrid icing to replace touch icing, something the AHL has experimented with" (TORONTO STAR, 3/21). NHL Senior VP & Dir of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell said of grandfathering in the proposed visor rule, "The NHLPA told us they had some traction in that area" (ESPN.com, 3/20). SPORTSNET's Chris Johnston wrote there "certainly seems to have been a shift in thinking." The union for years has "vehemently defended the right of each player to choose if he wants to wear a visor while pointing to the fact that the number who elected to do so was consistently on the rise." NHLPA Special Assistant to the Exec Dir Mathieu Schneider said, "With the injuries we've seen, part of me thinks the time has come." Johnston wrote the "mere fact that NHL players are set to vote on the issue amounts to progress -- even if there's no certainty that they'll support the motion" (SPORTSNET.ca, 3/20).
LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan's “force of personality and business acumen” has made a “a huge impact" in his three full seasons at the helm, according to Tod Leonard of the SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE. Since Whan took the position, there are “more tournaments, better TV exposure, and more symbiotic relationships with sponsors.” For each LPGA tournament, Whan “flies to the venue from his home in Florida to spend the early part of the week making sure the machine is running smoothly.” He also plays in “a half dozen pro-ams per year to massage business partners.” Whan said, “If something needs to be fixed the sponsor wants to be face to face with the guy who sold them the deal in the first place” (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 3/21). Whan said of LPGA Tour events potentially ending on a day other than Sunday to boost exposure, "We had an event last year in Hawaii that finished on Saturday. ... But we’re customer-friendly. We’ll finish when (our sponsors) want us to finish, not when we want to finish." Asked if there was a market the Tour hopes to enter, Whan said, “I don’t go looking for markets. I go looking for business partners. And then I try to find the market that works best for them” (GOLFDIGESTSTIX.com, 3/20). Meanwhile, GOLFWEEK’s Beth Ann Baldry notes the contract for the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup “remains on the table.” Whan had “hoped to make an announcement last week but said the title sponsor needs more time.” Whan: “I can’t imagine it going away.” Baldry writes the Canadian Women's Open is perhaps the “biggest tournament needing a title sponsor" for next year, as '13 is the “last year for Canadian National Railway” (GOLFWEEK, 3/22 issue).
COSTLY MISTAKE: Yani Tseng missed her tee time yesterday for a Pro-Am associated with this week's LPGA Kia Classic and was disqualified from the event. Golf Channel’s Peter Jacobsen said, "If you're (Tim) Finchem or Michael Whan or Mike Stevens, who run these three tours, you're looking at it from a long-term view. So if you upset sponsors on Wednesday, then it's going to be difficult for you in year two, three, five, 10 to be able to have a schedule that makes sense.” Jacobsen said of Tseng being forced to withdraw, “There is a responsibility that all of us professionals have to our Pro-Am partners and to the sponsors of the event. While it does seem harsh, I think it’s the right rule.” Golf Channel’s Damon Hack asked, “Are you hurting the tournament even more if a Yani Tseng ... is not there Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday?” Jacobsen: “No, you're not, because the most important day is Wednesday. You have a chance to play with the sponsors, the ones that are underwriting the tournament.” Golf Channel’s Gary Williams said, “Pay day is a result of Wednesday. Sunday happens because of Wednesday" ("Morning Drive," Golf Channel, 3/21).
Warriors Vice Chair Vivek Ranadivé believes India "could be the new China" for the NBA, according to Peter Vanham of the FINANCIAL TIMES. Ranadivé said, "Basketball has everything to succeed in India: it can be played everywhere, by everyone, and it has star power. Worldwide, basketball will be the soccer of the 21st century." NBA Commissioner David Stern said that revenue from China has been "steadily rising in recent years and could hit as much" as $150M this year. Ranadivé believes a "similar evolution could take place in India." He said, "The numbers in India could be staggering." Ranadivé added that growth in India and "other emerging markets could help double or triple NBA's current revenue" of $5B in the years to come. Vanham wrote one sign of the NBA's "rising popularity in India was when Sony signed a new exclusive broadcast deal" reportedly worth around $1M last fall. That figure was "up from $100,000 to $300,000 in previous years." But without an Indian player in the NBA, the "biggest question is whether the sport can really catch fire in India." It is "fair to say that the NBA would probably be nowhere as popular in China today if Chinese players such as Yao Ming -- and more recently the Taiwanese-American Jeremy Lin -- were not part of the league" (FT.com, 3/20).
SI's Tom Verducci cites sources as saying that MLB “could play opening games in Australia next season and in the Netherlands” in ’15. Sources also said that the league is “studying a possible Yankees-Red Sox game in London and a training academy in Italy.” MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said, “If we do it right, you won’t recognize the sport in a decade.” Verducci writes the mission of the recently-completed World Baseball Classic is “to grow the game internationally, not to assuage American feelings of superiority, and MLB’s metrics and plans are pointing upward” (SI, 3/25 issue).
ON THIN ICE? SI.com’s Brian Cazeneuve wrote the NHL “may expand upon the Winter and Heritage Classics to include more frequent outdoor games.” Cazeneuve asked, “Why not bring in more fans? Why not generate more revenue? Why not? Because outdoor hockey is going to hit a saturation point.” There are “logistical inconveniences that players are willing to overlook in order to participate in something they may do once in their lives.” But if they do it “a dozen times, those inconveniences won't have a greater purpose and will simply become nuisances.” The “swells of income and buzz will also likely diminish," and the ratings will “drop if viewers don't find outdoor hockey to be such a novel idea anymore” (SI.com, 3/20).
RESCUE ME: The AP’s Tim Dahlberg wrote under the header, “Can Brittney Griner Save The WNBA?” The Baylor Univ. senior basketball star “could be the one player who can get non-believers to tune in.” That would be “welcome news for a league that, approaching its 17th season, still struggles to win eyeballs.” Griner has had 14 dunks in her career, and that “will sell some tickets in the WNBA, a league desperate to get people in seats” (AP, 3/20).