Commissioner Goodell – With Paul Needell of The Newark Star-Ledger

(Sept 3rd 2008 – STAR-LEDGER: The season-ending knee injury suffered by Giants Pro Bowl DE Osi Umenyiora, as well as the way the fourth game of the preseason is treated by coaches who don’t even play many starters, begs the question: How long before the NFL shortens the exhibition season and lengthens the regular season from 16 to 17 or 18 games?

GOODELL: I think a thing that’s clear from a football perspective is that four preseason games are becoming unnecessary. The earliest there would be any modifications of this, I think, would be the 2010 season. But it would be subject not only to labor negotiations but also media negotiations (with the television networks).

S-L: Chargers Pro Bowl LB Shawne Merriman recently saw four specialists about the two torn knee ligaments. He’s admitted they all sugested season-ending surgery, advising him further damage would be career-threatening. Should the Chargers protect him from himself by not letting him play?

GOODELL: First off, our players are getting the best medical advice any individual – not only in professional sports, but beyond that – and that access gives them a lot of information and I assume the ability to balance the risk-rewards that they have. But athletes like to play.

Like Tiger Woods playing in the U.S. Open. These individuals are competitive, and that has to be balanced with their long-term health care and making sure they understand all that information.

I do not know what the medical advice Shawne has is. So it would be inappropriate to answer. But he obviously has been able to get tremendous advice. The club understands it. And Shawne says he wants to continue… So he’s in the best position to make a judgment whether to play.

They are protecting the player from himself, by getting all the medical advice. We don’t have all the information. He has the right to decide for himself. I don’t know how you or I can sit here and second-guess him or question his judgment.

S-L: Teams are charging regular-season prices and forcing season-ticket holders to purchase the preseason tix. Haven’t the final preseason games become a joke and a ripoff?

GOODELL: I don’t like that sort of comment about an NFL product, which is why I’ve been so focused on it the last two years. I don’t think the quality of the preseason matches the standard or expectation of the NFL or our fans. So that’s why we’re trying to address it. By reducing them, that will impove the quality of whatever preseason games remain.

S-L: Also, there’s the notion that the preseason revenues all go to the owners, since players don’t get paid until the regular season begins. Is that a wrong perception?

GOODELL: The players still get 60 percent of the gross. They’re paychecks just get cut during the 17 weeks of the season. The players who make the rosters get paid from this. My concern is the quality of the preseason.

S-L: Owners unanimously voted to opt out of the current CBA after the 2010 season. How has Gene’s death impacted on the talks for a new CBA, with the current one expiring after 2010?

GOODELL: There were no plans to be negotiating now, anyhow. Our focus has been on Gene and his family. … We’re all just concerned now about doing whatever we can for Gene and his family.

As it relates to it at somepoint, we’ll sit down and start discussing it and a variety of other matters at an appropriate time, but I assume that’s off several weeks.

S-L: As of now, the 2010 season would not have a salary cap limiting teams wanting to spend huge bucks on free agents. Is avoiding that the top priority?

GOODELL: No, one of the reasons we terminated early is because the deal as it was structured was not working, there was no reason to continue any further analysis, and to get started on what will work not just for the owners but also the players.

In the view of the owners the sooner the better, but the timeframe is to structure something that works for all parties. I’m not as concerned about the uncapped year. We’re concerned about continuing to play football at the level that we play it.

S-L: Are you hopeful negotiations will begin before this season ends?

GOODELL: It’s possible it could be delayed until after the season. I think everyone needs an opportunity here to get settled after a tragedy.

S-L: A team like the Jets shelled out $140 million in contracts to free agents in the offseason.

Aren’t you worried that, in an uncapped year, free-spending owners like the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones and Redskins’ Daniel Snyder will blow everyone out of the water by spending megamillions?

GOODELL: Not only is it a long time off, but there are a lot of changes that come into play in an uncapped year that would modify the system dramatically. One example is free agency wouldn’t come until after six years for a player (now it’s four). So there are factors that would temper what some people think would be this completely different system. I’m not sure we share the same concerns some others do on that front.

S-L: The Giants and Jets recently sent out different personal seat license plans to their season-ticket holders. Are you worried that the high cost of many of these PSLs are pricing out the average Joe and could lead to lessening the home-field advantage teams enjoy? Sort of like giving them a more corporpate crowd, like at Super Bowls?

GOODELL: That is not just the singular result of PSL. It’s the cost of going to any events, sports or otherwise. You’re always sensitive to your consumers and the fans’ ability to afford it. Both teams in this case, and in other sports, do a tremendous amount of research in developing their pricing plans. It is always a concern.

You always want your stadiums full and to have it available. There is value to a PSL, to the consumer. But you’re always worried about pricing, and I think both clubs have been sensitive to that.

S-L: Since the new stadium under construction at the Meadowlands will not have a dome, does that mean a future Super Bowl will not be coming to New Jersey due to the risk of terrible February weather?

GOODELL: We have not ruled it out. … There have been discussions aout it among the owners. There’s obviously some attraction to having it in the elements. On the other hand you have to balance that with the size of the event and what happens if you have unfortunate weather.

S-L: You met with the Rooney family last week to encourage them not to sell the team. Dan Rooney is one of the most revered owners in the league and wants to retain the organization but his brothers want to sell. Can you help Dan keep the franchise?

GOODELL: Any time you have a principal owner who has contributed to the league as much as Dan Rooney has, you want to try to accommodate that. From my first meeting with the brothers last year, that was the objective, to continue the ownership position of the Rooneys. Dan wants to continue to do that.

We had a productive discussion with all of them. There are obviously difficult, complex and emotional issues, but they’re working diligently to resolve that.

S-L: There’s a new personal conduct policy for fans in place to try to make going to the games a better experience, partially motivated by the infamous fans at Jets games around Gate D. How soon will you be able to tell how it’s working?

GOODELL: It’s quite simple: It’s based on making sure every fan is comfortable coming into one of our stadiums; not feeling as if they are threatened or there are circumstances going on around them that would prevent them from coming to another game. It’s really quite that simple.

People have the right to come to a game and not have the experience negatively impacted by others. Obviously, when you’re getting 75,000 people in a facility, that is a challenge. But we believe we can improve the environment and we will improve the environment.

S-L: Okay, now the most important question, on behalf of the legion of fans of one of New Jersey’s favorite sons. Have you really bagged Bruce Springsteen to be the halftime entertainment for Super Bowl XLIII on Feb. 1 in Tampa?

GOODELL: (A long laugh) There is no determination on the halftime show at this point in time.