Kaz’s Korner

Joe Kazmar – For The Record

When the National Football League owners held their annual spring meetings last week, one of the most essential topics on their agenda pertained to the conduct of the players on the field during games.

According to an article in one of last week’s editions of the Houston Chronicle, one of the most controversial changes involved automatic player ejection for two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in a game.

“Specifically, if a player is called for hitting, kicking or using abusive language for a second time, he’s kicked out of the game,” the Chronicle article explains.

“Sportsmanship is important to us,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told the newspaper last week. “It’s important to our players, our teams and our fans. We all have standards. The message from the membership is we’re going to be held to those high standards.”

On the final day of the annual spring meetings, the owners also voted to move touchbacks on kickoffs from the 20-yard line to the 25, much like what was initiated in college football a couple of years ago.

Both the automatic ejection for two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and moving touchbacks to the 25 yard line were approved by the owners on a one-year trial basis.

“The idea is to reduce the number of kickoff returns, which the NFL considers a safety issue. But it could have the opposite effect. Coaches could call for pooch kicks and directional kicks designed to pin the offense inside the 25 yard line. If that happens, there would be more returns, not fewer,” the article pointed out.

“We approved it for one year because we want to see how it impacts the game,” commented Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee that recommended the changes. “There is that thought that there will be more short kicks.”

The new rule governing touchbacks is intended to cut back on injuries on arguably one of the most dangerous plays in football. It will be voted on again in a year to determine if the change will become permanent. Several NFL coaches lobbied against the change, McKay acknowledged.

The Chronicle pointed out that the Houston Texans’ average start after kickoffs was the 25.5-yard line, which ranked 29th in the NFL. However coaches had more concerns about the unsportsmanlike conduct rule change.

“I think we’re talking about the integrity of the game,” Texans head coach Bill O’Brien told the Chronicle. “We’re trying to do a good job of making sure that the game is played cleanly.

“I think the one thing that’s going to be difficult is that let’s say one of your best players gets an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty early in the game. Is he going to become a target? Meaning, are opponents going to go after this guy to try to provoke him to do something where he gets kicked out of a game?” O’Brien asks.

“We haven’t been able to affect sportsmanship in a way we think we need to,” McKay said. “We felt like we needed a rule to make sure the players are held accountable. Last year we had 75 unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and that’s a big number.”

The coaches should be happy that the owners also tweaked the injured reserve rule.

Under the old rule, when a team wanted to designate a player to return, it had to do so when he was on injured reserve. He could return after six weeks and practice for two weeks and be eligible after eight weeks.

The new rule says a player doesn’t have to be designated to return until he’s ready to return–in other words–after six weeks and two weeks of practice. It allows teams more flexibility when it places a player on injured reserve.

KWICKIES… Controversial quarterback Johnny Manziel, who was waived last week by the Cleveland Browns, probably will be suspended by the league if he gets a second chance with another NFL team. The former Texas Aggie and Heisman Trophy winner has been involved in two alleged instances of domestic abuse. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has come down hard on player discipline, especially for those involved in domestic violence. The general feeling is that Manziel will receive a multiple-game suspension if he returns to the NFL.

The new Los Angeles Rams franchise that recently moved from St. Louis has been designated as the new “Hard Knocks” team for the HBO training camp series that featured the Houston Texans last year.

Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees’ 40-year-old slugging star, told ESPN he plans to retire from baseball after the 2017 season, when his $275 million, 10-year contract with the Bronx Bombers expires. Rodriguez enters the new season fourth on the career home run list with 687.

West Orange-Stark pitcher/infielder Payton Robertson, who comes from an excellent baseball bloodline, reportedly has changed his mind and plans on playing his college baseball with the Lamar Cardinals.

And speaking of the Lamar Cardinals baseball team, the Big Red is coming off a six-game winning streak after sweeping Southland Conference members Central Arkansas and the University of New Orleans last week and stands in second place with a 7-2 record in the SLC, behind 9-0 Southeastern Louisiana. The Redbirds, 16-7 overall, played the Texas Longhorns last night (Tues.) in Austin.

The Houston Texans came out way ahead by signing free agent quarterback Brock Osweiler earlier this month to a four-year, $72 million contract including $37 million guaranteed. If the Texans had waited to select a quarterback that Head Coach Bill O’Brien and general manager Rick Smith would have wanted in next month’s draft, they would have had to give up some draft choices and perhaps a starting player just to move up in the draft to get one of the few prime quarterbacks available. And he wouldn’t have four years experience in the NFL like Osweiler does.

And speaking of the Houston Texans, isn’t it ironic that they waived running back Arian Foster because he has been injured more than he’s been healthy and replaced him with 24-year old Miami Dolphin free agent Lamar Miller. This week the Dolphins want to look at 30-year-old veteran Foster as a replacement for Miller at running back.

Top-ranked Jordan Spieth is leading a parade of the world’s top 10 golfers who will be playing in this week’s Shell Houston Open that begins tomorrow (Thurs.) at the Golf Club of Houston. Besides Spieth, the field also will include fan favorite Rickie Fowler (5) Henrik Stinson (7), Dustin Johnson (9) and Patrick Reed (10). Former champion Johnson Wagner (2008) will be wearing the Shell logo on his shirt, having been named by the company as one of its “sports ambassadors” last fall. Other ex-champions include J.B. Holmes (2015), Matt Jones (2014), D.A. Points (2013), Hunter Mahan (2012), Phil Mickelson (2011), Stuart Appleby (1999 and 2006) and three-time champion Vijay Singh (2002, 2004, and 2005).

JUST BETWEEN US…There always seems to be a Cinderella team in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament’s Final Four and this year is no exception. Syracuse, a 23-13 team that many felt didn’t even belong in this year’s tournament, caught fire at the right time and upset Virginia Commonwealth 85-81in the second round, Texas A&M 77-63 in the Sweet 16 and Oregon 80-68 in the Elite Eight and will once again be a huge underdog in Saturday’s semifinal round of the Final Four game against top-seeded North Carolina. I don’t think the Orangemen can pull off another upset. Now the Oklahoma-Villanova early game Saturday is another story. The Sooners have been playing real well when it counted the most and should pull off another upset despite being an early two-point underdog. But I still look for North Carolina to win the National Championship Monday night.