ORLANDO — Bill Belichick is just as eager as the rest of us for the NFL to come up with a catch rule that works.
“I mean, we all talk about it a lot,” Belichick said late Sunday evening at a Ritz-Carlton Resort in Orlando, site of this week’s NFL owners meetings. “If we can do anything to make that better, make the game better, then I’m for it, we’re all for it. Just have to try to find out what that is.”
The catch rule is hardly the only order of business over the next three days. The NFL’s owners, general managers, head coaches, and top executives will be debating and voting on 27 rules proposals, from changing defensive pass interference to 15 yards, to allowing teams to hire head coaches that are still alive in the playoffs (a so-called “Josh McDaniels rule), to requiring that each stadium is equipped with female locker rooms.
But the league’s new catch rule is the headliner, and the NFL’s Competition Committee believes it finally found an answer that everyone can agree with. The new rule, which is likely to receive the 24 of 32 owner votes needed to pass, has been simplified to a three-step process:
■ Control the ball prior to it touching the ground;
■ Touch two feet, or any other body part other than hands, in-bounds;
■ Perform any act common to the game (lunging for the first down, tucking the ball, taking a step up-field, etc.), or maintaining control of the ball long enough to do so.
Belichick said he’ll have a better understanding of the rule after it is presented by the Competition Committee in this week’s meetings.
“We had a little bit of discussion on it this afternoon, but I’m sure it will be a lot deeper than that,” Belichick said. “I think we all want to find something that’s simple, that we can all understand, we can all agree on, we can all look at the play and say, OK, it is or it isn’t. How do we do that? I think that’s the goal of Al Riveron and the other people that are involved in that process.”
One item that is not on the official agenda that will surely generate a lot of discussion among the owners and with the media: The league’s position on standing for the national anthem.
The topic divided the nation last fall, and it divided the owners Sunday.
The NFL’s game operations manual states that “all players must be on the sideline for the national anthem,” and that players “should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking.”
The league office stated several times last fall that the word “should” implies that standing for the anthem is not required.
Texans owner Bob McNair disagreed with that interpretation Sunday.
“We have a policy manual now that says they must be on the sideline and they should stand and hold their helmet in their left hand. I interpret that to mean that’s what they should be doing,” McNair said. “The union argues, ‘Well, if you really meant it, you’d say ‘must.’ ”
Jets owner Chris Johnson said he doesn’t want to change the rule to require players to stand for the anthem.
“I can’t speak to how other people run their teams, but I just think that trying to forcibly get the players to shut up is a fantastically bad idea,” Johnson told reporters.
But McNair appears to be on the other end of the spectrum.
“Our playing field is not the place for political statements, that’s not the place for religious statements,” McNair said. “That’s the place for football, and that’s what I think we need to be doing.”
McNair is concerned that last year’s protests had a negative effect with the fans.
“You could replace all the owners and the league would go on,” he said. “You could replace all the players and the league would go on. But you can’t replace the fans. If you don’t have the fans, you’re dead, so we’ve got to pay attention to them and make sure that they know that we respect our service people, we love our country.”
McNair added: “We’re going to deal with it in such a way I think that people will understand that we want everybody to respect our country, respect our flag.”
Giants owner John Mara said he doesn’t expect any changes to the policy at these meetings, but implied that the NFL needs to do something before the start of next season, and expects progress at the league’s next round of meetings in May.
“I don’t expect any specific resolution to come out of this meeting on the anthem policy,” Mara told reporters. “But I certainly think it will be discussed, and some resolution hopefully will come out of the May meeting. I don’t think we can wait longer than that.”