AN ISSUE OF INTEGRITY

Integrity of the game has been a primary issue at the NFL Owners Meetings this week. Colts President Bill Polian, Head Coach Tony Dungy and Owner and Chief Executive Officer Jim Irsay all said they support a recent proposal by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell regarding the issue.

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Goodell's Mission to Preserve Game's Integrity is Imant, Polian and Dungy Say

PALM BEACH, Fla. – To Tony Dungy, most of the issues are wait-and-see deals.

Dungy, the Colts' head coach, said he's still considering the pros and cons of at least two of the key topics being discussed at the 2008 NFL Owners Meetings: reseeding the NFL playoffs, and a proposed rule to legislate how low a player's hair may hang.

One issue Dungy, though, is very much decided upon:

The integrity of the game.

"The (NFL) commissioner (Roger Goodell) had a discussion about that this morning," Dungy said Monday during a break at the 2008 League Meetings, which are being held through Wednesday at The Breakers resort in Palm Beach.

"I think he's right. I think it's very important for us. Whatever measures he feels like we have to take to safeguard that, I'm behind him."

The integrity of the game has been a primary issue in the early days of this year's League Meetings, with many coaches and team executives speaking in favor of a recent proposal by Goodell.

In a recent letter to the NFL's Competition Committee, Goodell proposed strengthening enforcement procedures for violations. The committee took no specific action, but agreed in principle to the proposal, which included a "whistleblower" provision that would protect anyone reporting illegal activity.

"I'm 100 percent behind it – as is every member of the committee," said Colts President Bill Polian, a member of the NFL's prestigious Competition Committee.

Jim Irsay, the Colts' Owner and Chief Executive Officer, said Goodell in nearly two years in office has taken solid steps to preserve such integrity.

This past season, Goodell penalized the New England Patriots and Head Coach Bill Belichick for videotaping defensive signals against the New York Jets in the 2008 regular-season opener, fining Belichick $500,000 and taking away from the Patriots a first-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft.

"I think it's a good thing," Irsay said of the Commissioner's proposal. "I think you have to be proactive. Roger's been that way in terms of addressing any issues that have come up."

Said Dungy, "I think it's important for our fans to have the assurance that everything is on a level playing field and above board. It would have been nice if it never came up and never became an issue, but since it has, I think we need to address it."

The NFL owners also this week are expected to vote on several other issues, including a proposal by the Kansas City Chiefs to regulate how long a player's hair may extend down his back.

Dungy said he has yet to finalize his view on the matter.

"My initial feeling is it's not something we should be involved in, but they are looking at it from the standpoint of uniform, so I'm rethinking the idea," Dungy said.

Another major proposal expected to be voted upon would give a wild-card team a chance to play host to a first-round playoff game.

Under the current playoff system, the two division winners with the best record in each conference get a bye, with the other two division winners being seeded No. 3 and 4 and receiving a first-round home game. Under the existing system, the two wild-card teams get the No. 5 and 6 seeds and play on the road in the first round and – if they advance – in the second round, too.

Under the proposed system, the Nos. 3-6 seeds would be slotted by record, with the three and four seeds hosting first-round games regardless of placement within the division.

The division winners would have a tiebreaker edge over wild-card qualifiers, meaning a division-winning team with an 11-5 record would play host to a wild-card team with the same record.

"I like the idea, but I do think we have to really acknowledge the fact that the division championship means something," Dungy said. "To me, if we're going to seed just according to record, then we can slot the teams up both ways, but we shouldn't talk about division championships. Just put the best teams with the best records in the playoff. I would be for one or the other, but I'm not for maintaining division and still having the division winners, but then saying it doesn't mean anything at the end of the day.

Said Polian, "There are strong arguments on both sides and you have to respect the arguments on both sides. My personal take is that it's an owners' issue. It's an owner's issue and there are strong reasons both ways. There are people who believe very strongly that if you win the division you should have the home game. There are people who believe that the record is what ought to determine it.

"There are statistics and arguments you can make both ways."

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