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Rooney: Steelers backed new ejection, touchback rules

| Wednesday, March 23, 2016, 12:00 p.m.

BOCA RATON, Fla. — The NFL Competition Committee on Wednesday voted in favor of the automatic ejection rule along with moving touchbacks to the 25-yard line.

The owners voted in favor of the rules on a one-year interim basis. The expanded replay proposal will be revisited during the May owners' meetings in Charlotte, N.C.

The NFL passed seven other rules Tuesday at the league's annual meeting at the Boca Raton Resort and Club, but it needed extra discussions on others on the final day of the meetings Wednesday. In all, nine of the 19 proposals were passed.

“The rule changes that we were in favor of got passed — the chop block got eliminated, so we are happy with that,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said. “From a rules perspective, we were happy with the way things turned out.”

The biggest rule change on the agenda — something commissioner Roger Goodell suggested during the Super Bowl — was to automatically eject any player flagged for two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls in a game. Rooney said the fouls included are broader than unsportsmanlike conduct.

“There is a list of specific conduct in there that includes fighting and punching and those types of things,” Rooney. “That was really the issue — making sure everybody was comfortable with the definition of the fouls that would be part of the rule. It doesn't necessarily need to be unsportsmanlike conduct or unnecessary roughness.”

Rooney said player conduct on the field is something that needed to be addressed. Unsportsmanlike conduct fouls spiked from 46 a year over a 10-year span to 75 in 2015 — the most ever in the NFL in one season.

“I think it is something that we need to address,” Rooney said. “We are still at the point where these things are relatively rare. I am not sure it is a widespread problem, but it is a good rule to have just in case you have an incident.”

In the other significant change, next season touchbacks will be placed on the 25-yard line instead of the 20 in an effort to discourage teams from returning kicks. Kickoff plays often put players at the greatest risk for injury, as all 22 players can run into physical collisions at full speed.

Rooney doesn't think the rule change is an indication that kickoffs eventually will be eliminated.

“I don't know if we are heading in the direction of eliminating the kickoff,” Rooney said. “It is certainly looking at the play and trying to make it a safe play in the game.”

The Ravens proposed a rule that would expand instant replay, which the Steelers were against.

“We have a rule that would expand replay that was tabled for further discussion,” Rooney said. “I still think it will be unlikely it will be expanded this year.”

Mark Kaboly is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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