NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spoke with Detroit Lions season-ticket holders on a conference call yesterday. He addressed a number of topics, including the NFL lockout, Calvin Johnson catch controversy and the annual Thanksgiving game. Via the Lions, after the jump is a transcript of the call.
Moderator & Lions Play-by-play voice, Dan Miller
"Good afternoon everybody and welcome to our Detroit Lions Fan Forum. My name is Dan Miller and today we have a unique and exclusive opportunity for the organizations ticket holders to talk with NFL Commission Roger Goodell and Lions' Team President Tom Lewand. Clearly these are frustrating time for fans and for the two sides to get together a collective bargaining agreement. Today is your opportunity to talk to discuss the issues with the commissioner. We would ask that you do direct your questions to Mr. Goodell. It's a great opportunity and one you don't get too often. Tom Lewand is always available to address your questions or concerns and you can always contact him through your account representative. If you have a question, here's how you get involved: if you want to press star three and then we will get you up on the board and on the line with Commissioner Goodell. We want to get to as many of you as possible in this 30 minute block, so please keep your questions short and to the point. Again, you can start doing it right now. If you have a question for Commissioner, simply press star three on your keypad and that will connect you with our operators. At this point let me welcome Lions' Team President Tom Lewand, who will introduce our special guest."
Lions President Tom Lewand
"Thanks Dan, and I want to echo your comment and welcome everybody to this fan forum and most importantly I want to thank you for your continued support. We have great, great support from our season ticket holders, our sponsors, our partners and we appreciate your continued support, particularly during these difficult times. We look forward to much more interaction with you in the weeks and months ahead as we gear up for the 2011 season and I also want to extend my gratitude to Commissioner Goodell for taking the time out of his schedule to join us today and I know you guys are excited to hear from him, so without further ado I will introduce Commissioner Roger Goodell."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
"Well thanks Tom, it's great to be with your season ticket holders and to be able to speak directly to them. I thank you for the opportunity. To the season ticket holders, thank you for your support. I know that the Lions organization from the Ford family to Tom Lewand to all the way through the organization, they are working at every level to improve the quality of what they do. I know they share the same theory I have which is they believe in better. Coach Schwartz and Martin, they all believe in the same thing, and they want to improve on the field and in the stadium and make sure that you understand, the fans, how important you are to all of us. I salute them for giving us this opportunity and I look forward to hearing your questions. I'm sure you have questions across the board. I've done several of these and I think close to half the clubs already and I think it's a great experience for me and I look forward to hearing what's on your mind."
On where things currently stand with the lockout
"The latest is that the lockout is in place, there is a hearing before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on June 3; but I think the reality is what I've said repeatedly going back months, if not years, is that this will be resolve through collective bargaining, through negotiations, it is not going to be resolved through litigation. It has delayed the process and it's time for us to get back and negotiate. It's important for us to resolved these issues to ensure the season, to ensure a full season. We continue to make plans for a full season, but time is running short and we need to get back to the bargaining table. The union's attorneys have pursued a strategy here that I think ultimately is bad for the game of football. It challenges many of the aspects of the game that I think are what fans and I love about the game, the competitiveness of the game, the ability for us to be successful in the small markets as well as large markets and we have to make sure that we defend the structure of this league, but we also have to make sure that we're open minded enough to address issues in collective bargaining that can reach an agreement that's good for the players, good for the clubs and most importantly, good for the fans and the game of football long term."
On whether there is a possibility of utilizing replacement players
"Well we have not discussed a strategy of replacement players. It's not our focus. We want to get an agreement that is good for the players and good for the clubs and good for the game long-term. It is not part of our strategy and I still believe that if we work and we're committed to it and got back to the negotiating table and with clear negotiations and with a clear intent of reaching an agreement, we could do so. That is my continued hope and focus."
On whether a restructured season is still a possibility
"You've got a lot of issues in there. Let me start with the 18 to a 16-4 (season) because I sense that's the core of your question. We have proposed as far as the March 11 proposal to the players, that we would implement health and safety changes to the game immediately. In the change of the season structure we are obviously aware of the impact it can have on the player and we want to make sure that we address that. By implementing it now we can see the effects of that, we can evaluate that and we can make the smart decision, long-term decision of 18-2 versus 16-4. That's the right way to do this. With the players, with consideration of health and safety factors, with all of the other competitive issues, we want to be... if we're going to go to a restructured season, we want to do it the right way and we won't do it unless we can. I think that means not rushing into the season. I think it's something that we need to take the time and go through all that evaluation and do it the right way."
On WR Calvin Johnson's game-winning touchdown catch at Chicago being ruled incomplete
"Unfortunately calls during any game impact on the outcome of the game and that's why officiating is so important. Consistency in officiating is so important; but I think it's important to go back to really three elements to any catch: No. 1 you've got to secure and control the ball in your hands, and No. 2 you've got to maintain that control when you have two feet down or any other part of the body other than your hands, and No. 3 is, you have to make sure that - and this clarification we'll add to the (rule) book - you must control the ball long enough after a and b has occurred, that you've got the ball cleanly and you've got two feet down, or another body part. You've got to control that long enough and that's something that we have often times looked at in our rules, we've looked at a few the competition committee. Controlling that ball after you've established the first two aspects of that after a period of time is where the element of judgment comes in and I think their competition committee and our other members of our football operations, including on a club level, have all felt we should make sure that the player has maintained it for a period of time after the first two elements have been in control."
On whether the 'process of the catch' is a tough rule to implement
"What people want is consistencies in the rules and anytime there's judgment that's when you sometime get the inconsistency and if you're a fan of one team, you're looking at it from one perspective, if you're a fan of another team you're looking at it from another perspective. You want to try to make it as black and white as possible and you want to make sure it's as consistent as possible from game-to-game. That's the effort to always do that. This rule clearly, pass interference is one that we've always tried to sharpen to make sure that it's as black and white as possible; but I think every aspect of a rule, which is why our competition committee at the end of year goes through months of evaluations of those rules that may not be clear or good be more clear, they could be more easily officiated, or they should just be changed from a competitive standpoint."
On whether the work stoppage hurts young teams like the Lions more than some other teams
"I think a lockout or a work stoppage hurts every team in the NFL. It's not good for the clubs, it's not good for the players and I don't think it's good for the games. You want to do everything you can to avoid that. We need an agreement; we need to have system issues addressed. We need to have a number of other issues that have been identified over the last couple of years addressed in a responsible fashion so that at the end of the day we have a collective bargaining agreement that's broad and will allow the competitiveness of the game continue. I think that there are a number of factors have been raised as this uncertainty continues. One example, slightly different than your point, but if you have a first year coach, this year a number of fans and obviously that's been raised. They don't have the ability right now to be working with their players and implementing their system. I think there are things you can say that without the certainty, without the ability to be in camps and working, that's going to impact on the quality and that's why we need to get to this agreement sooner rather than later."
On whether the NFL is losing credibility as they continue to lose in court
"Well, I don't agree with your point on every court case has gone against us. There was a decision earlier this week that clearly stated that the decision in the district court needs to be reviewed and that's what will go through the hearing, but it was very clear about some of the issues that we have raised in our appeal. Second of all, in another case that was recently raised on this front, on the TV case, we won that in the case with special master and we are still going through the appeal case. We have several other cases that we've been fighting for two and a half years at different stages of litigation. You lose like the Star Caps case, but ultimately we won that and we were right on the law and we were right on the policies. I don't agree that our position has been weakened in litigation, but I also don't believe that litigation is the ultimate determinant. I think at the end of the day it's how you run your business and how you run your league, and I think we've done that in a respectful fashion, a professional fashion and I think the results dictate for themselves. We will continue to do things the right way and I while I understand your frustration, I certainly hope at the end of the day we'll win fans over by doing things the right way."
On when the deadline is to get a deal done in order for no games to be missed
"There is no specific drop-dead date if that's your direct question, but I think again, going to this uncertainty, it's not just: can we have a full season, but can we have the same quality of season; can we insure the competitiveness of our game, the fact that players are prepared to play; did we have a reasonable free agency period. All of that needs to get addressed hopefully sooner rather than later and that needs to be done in the context of a collective bargaining agreement. That's why we suggested, 'let's get back to the table; let's get back and negotiate and address these issues,' so that we can insure that quality football that you expect."
On whether progress was made earlier this week in mediation and if the NFL would like to get back to mediation sooner than June 7
"We are restricted in what we can talk about as part of the mediation because the judge has asked us to keep that confidential, so I can't address anything specific there other than I believe that negotiations are going to be the resolution. We are prepared to continue those negotiations; we're under instructions from the court; they determine when the mediation sessions are. I can assure you that we will work - as we did back in February in mediation where we met 17 days in a very limited period of time - we will continue to do that and that's the kind of focus that's going to be required to get to an agreement."
On the Free Agency system and how it will be altered moving forward
"The system in 2010 without a salary cap was six years to free agency. Prior to that, we had four years to free agency. So the bottom line is that's one of the system issues that has to be addressed in the context of collective bargaining. I think it is reasonable that we have a salary cap; I think it has been good for the game. I think it's also reasonable that we have free agency rules that result in limited free agency with a chance for players to move but also a consistency among the 32 clubs and the ability to make sure we have a competitive product and I think that's been the beauty of our rules. It's why I think you as Detroit Lions fans have such optimism going into this season is that the team has made some great moves and there's a hope that they can go all the way to the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl. That hope exists in almost every NFL market and I believe in every NFL market we've proven that and that's the kind of thing that we want to have balancing here; so proper free agency rules with proper salary cap rules and other system issues that will keep the competitive integrity of the game."
On DT Ndamukong Suh's penalized tackle of QB Jay Cutler on December 5 and if that fine was upheld
"I don't uphold the fines; our staff makes the initial determination of whether there's a violation of the rules and whether a fine is appropriate. From that point in time it goes to one of two appeals offices that are determined between us and the union. Both are former coaches in the NFL: Ted Cottrell and Art Shell - one, Art Shell obviously a Hall of Fame player. They make the determination in the appeal process of whether it should be held up. I did speak to Ndamukong about it and made sure that he had additional opportunity to be able to speak to the appeals officer and I believe that has been resolved since then. When I saw Ndamukong, actually just recently at the draft, he mentioned that it had been resolved."
On how damaging it would be for there to be no football on September 11
"We're well aware of the 10th anniversary of 9/11; it not only is it obviously an important day for the entire country, but for those of us here in New York and Washington (D.C.) and Western Pennsylvania. I think the broader issue is that not having football is damaging to not only the NFL, but also the players and of course the fans. I think it's our job to continue to bring great football to our fans. That's why we have to get back to the table and make sure we resolve our differences and get that done. I think time is running short as I said earlier, and I want to be playing not only the weekend of 9/11 and the anniversary of that important date in our history but throughout the season."
On having played Green Bay so frequently on Thanksgiving and whether it's a random selection
"Not much is random in our scheduling process. First off, the opponents are determined by a formula so that competitive aspects are the same across all 32 clubs. Then the decision of once the opponents are determined by that formula, there's a decision about when those games are played and that is an incredibly complex process that involves obviously stadium availabilities, competitive issues, broadcast issues and you just have to balance all of those issues in a way that ultimately is going to produce the best schedule. But you're always going to have things that you're not going to be able to accomplish in that process.
"I think it's most important that you have that opportunity to play on Thanksgiving Day and get that national audience. I also know how important - having attended that Thanksgiving Day game - how important it is to Lions fans. It's part of the tradition that we think is important in the NFL. Obviously you always have to balance that with innovation; we've been fortunate to be able to add a third game on Thanksgiving night on the NFL Network and we think we've done a nice job of balancing the scheduling and the tradition and the innovation."
On why Lions Vice Chairman Bill Ford, Jr. hasn't been included in CBA negotiations given his background in labor disputes at Ford Motor Company
"We have a 10 club labor committee, we call it the CEC. I agree with you about my respect for Bill Ford, Jr. and Bill Ford, Sr. and their obvious history of collective bargaining and I speak to them frequently to take their experience and whatever they can offer to help us. I can tell you that all 32 clubs are incredibly involved in this process; they are informed. We meet regularly; we have communications with each of our clubs. We reach out, not only through the committee, but also individually to make sure that the communication line is strong and that we are doing everything we possibly can to address this in a responsible and fair manner. I think Bill Ford, Jr. would say that and I hope, as he does, that we can get to a resolution sooner rather than later."
On the NFL needing to be transparent in what they're offering and what the NFLPA is asking for
"I think this is why the ownership made the proposal public on March 11. One, because I think they do believe in transparency and openness; they took their proposal to the players and then sent it to the players and then also made it public. What it represented was a slight increase in player compensation from 2010 to 2011 and then a 14-percent increase over the next three years. It addressed retired player pension issues and in fact had a 60-percent increase of pensions for retired players from the pre-1993 period. We addressed the issue of rookie compensation in a system and there are a variety of other things - I believe there was close to 20 points that were put into a proposal for the players that we made public. We, I think, have tried to be very open about the issues that we think need to be addressed in collective bargaining but there's really way of doing that other than at the table. These are not going to be won in public debates, they're going to be won at the negotiating table. Win, to me, is when all parties compromise and all parties get what they need, not what they want. That's what we need to get back to doing and that's why this is only going to happen through a negotiation course and hopefully we've been clear about the priorities we have for the game and how we're going to continue to grow this game and I believe is fair also in the proposal."
Lions President Tom Lewand
"Alright Commissioner, this is Tom Lewand again, I want to thank you for your time; I see we've gone a couple minutes past 12:30. I want to thank everybody who has been on the call again for your continued support, for your participation today. We will stay in touch with you throughout this process as we continue to get ready for games this fall and again Commissioner, thank you so much for your time and we look forward to staying in touch with you as the negotiations hopefully go forward."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
"Thank you Tom and thanks to your fans."
Moderator & Lions Play-by-play voice, Dan Miller
"Thank you very much - Commissioner Roger Goodell right there. I want to say to the season ticket holders, if you are on the line and you would like to leave a question for Tom Lewand, you're welcome to do that; there will be instructions on how to do that on a recorded message that will come your way here in just a moment. So once again on behalf of Tom Lewand, the Lions and Commissioner Roger Goodell of the NFL, thank you for making us a part of your day and I think we're all united in the fact that we hope we'll be back to playing football soon and talking about things outside of court and negotiations. Thank you very much; we look forward to talking to you again soon."