At the league's one-day fall owners meeting here at a downtown hotel, Goodell was peppered with questions about Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre and the allegations that he sent lewd text messages and photos to former New York Jets employee Jenn Sterger when he played for the team in 2008. For now, Goodell said he has no plans to either meet with Favre, or punish him, but that both could change with time and further investigation.
Like with the Michael Vick saga in 2007, and in the case of Ben Roethlisberger earlier this year, Goodell finds himself dealing with a player's situation that falls under the league's personal conduct policy, but not in any cut and dried fashion. In Favre's case, there is no criminal investigation into his alleged actions, no civil lawsuit involved, or any known claim of sexual harassment in the workplace, which is the prism through which the league has said it is viewing the matter with Favre. In addition, the league is still trying to talk with Sterger to get her side of the story, but has yet been unsuccessful in those attempts.
So where does that leave Goodell in terms of what to do about Favre? Nowhere yet, as the commissioner repeatedly made clear on Tuesday.
"Before we jump to any conclusions on this, let's understand the facts,'' Goodell said. "But I've often said, this is one of the reasons we implemented a personal conduct policy, to make sure everyone associated with the NFL, commissioners, players, coaches, and executives, understand the responsibility to conduct themselves in a responsible fashion, and we all have to understand that.''
Goodell said it would be premature to give any timetable for when he might make a decision on Favre's case, noting he has yet to read the reports that his staff are compiling as part of its investigation. While he wouldn't speculate on whether the allegations, if proven true, rise to the level of punishable on the personal conduct front, he did defend the past penalties he has handed out under the policy.
"We're going to find out the facts,'' Goodell said. "We all understand the personal conduct policy. I like to believe that we'll apply that in a fair and consistent basis. When we get the facts we'll make some determinations from there.
"If you look at the policy, I believe we've been very consistent in the way we've applied it. It makes it clear what is permissible and what's not permissible. Obviously you can't identify every specific issue in a policy, but we worked this out with the (NFL) Players Association, and I think it serves everyone well. We're going to try to continue to adhere to it and improve it where we can.''
Goodell seemed to be reminding everyone that the league's personal conduct policy, which he helped initiate and has been a centerpiece of his four-year tenure as commissioner, grants him fairly broad power to discipline players and league employees even in the absence of criminal charges, civil lawsuits, or the triggering of other legal thresholds. As the Roethlisberger case demonstrated especially well, Goodell can hand out a penalty based on conduct he deems detrimental to the league -- be it a fine, suspension or both.
Goodell just isn't ready to make it known if he has come to any conclusion regarding Favre's alleged actions, and whether his situation constitutes a case of sexual harassment in the workplace. Certainly not before the league exhausts all efforts to talk directly with Sterger, and finishes its investigation.
For now, that leaves Favre in limbo, with his status uncertain in the eyes of the league. Quite the role reversal, wouldn't you say? For the past three or four years, it has been the other way around, with the league waiting for Favre to make up his mind and remove the uncertainty.
• Favre's situation was far from the only topic of conversation as the owners and many general managers of NFL clubs convened. Part of the day was given over to the league's preparations for a potential lockout of players next year, and how clubs and the league office would handle cost-cutting staff reductions and pay cuts in the event no games were played next season.
According to a league source, executives from at least two teams were scheduled to present a business model to all the clubs for how they intend to operate during a lockout. The plan would include how to reduce cash costs, and extend stadium financing terms, as well as cut staffing, investment and debt service levels. Some teams were said to have detailed how they plan to cut costs in terms of staffing in departments across the board -- marketing, business operations, football operations, and support staff.
League officials would not be exempt from the cost reductions during a lockout, as the NFL has a contingency plan calling for some staffing decreases and pay cuts by senior executives if there are no games in 2011.
Goodell declined to speak in any specifics about the league's contingency plans, but he didn't deny that team owners spent part of their day hearing about how to prepare for the worst-case scenario next year.
"I wouldn't say a big part of (the day was spent on) it,'' Goodell said. "I would put it as we're prepared for all alternatives. That's what we've focused on for the last several years. Our hope and our plan is to reach a collective bargaining agreement before the expiration. But we're prepared for all alternatives, like any business would do or any management. You have to make sure you're prepared going into a negotiation for those alternatives.''
There was one note of optimism sounded on the labor front on Tuesday, and it came from New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Asked if he believed a new CBA could be reached by next year, Kraft said: "I'd like to see this get done before the season ends.'' Is that realistic, he was asked? "It is to me.''
Goodell agreed, but tempered his remarks with a much healthier dose of caution. "I think it's realistic, but I think we've got a lot of work to do. I'm not one for rhetoric or projections. Let's get it done.''
• There was zero discussion here about the prospects of an 18-game regular season in the NFL, but that doesn't mean it's an issue that continues to lose traction within the league and ownership. Just the opposite. It means it's really what Colts president Bill Polian, in a moment of candor he regrets, called it a few weeks back: A fait accompli.
The league has made the decision it wants to go to 18 games, and there's little debate about the topic internally. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Tuesday the push for 18 games is "unanimous'' among him and his fellow owners in the league. Now it's just a matter of how to successfully get it worked into the upcoming CBA negotiations and assuage enough of the doubts that the players have about the plan.
"I don't think there's much to say on that,'' Colts owner Jim Irsay said. "My president (Polian) said some things and then the commissioner (Goodell) said something to him. And then I said some things to him (Polian).''
I actually asked Polian if any 18-game discussion had surfaced Tuesday, and he just smiled and said: "Not a word.''
• Fellow longtime NFL competition committee Ozzie Newsome told me much the same thing the day after Calvin Johnson's apparently game-winning touchdown catch in Week 1 was ruled incomplete, but it's another good sign that Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay said the going-to-the-ground possession rule will "definitely be discussed'' by the competition committee next offseason.
"The going-to-the-ground rule definitely will be discussed,'' McKay said during a mid-day break in the meeting. "It's a difficult rule. It was made for on-field officials, not as much for people watching on TV. There's a definite conflict. We have to go back and look if we extended it too far.''
Trust me, Rich. You extended it too far. No one knows what a legal catch even looks like in the NFL any more. The high-profile calls involving Calvin Johnson and Michael Spurlock have made that clearer than ever in the season's first month.
• McKay had two other decent nuggets regarding competition committee matters. First, offensive holding calls are up, as expected, in the wake of the NFL moving the umpire into the offensive backfield. McKay didn't cite any statistics on holding calls, but he said the move thoroughly addressed the safety issues the league had in regards to the umpire.
Last year, McKay said, there were between "105 and 115 hits'' on umpires who came into contact with players, but those have been eliminated this season. But now with umpires in better position to see offensive holding, those numbers have climbed. Through four weeks, offensive holding calls were up 23 percent throughout the league.
But McKay defended the increase said the competition committee believes offensive holding calls will "level off as players adjust their conduct'' to the new, stricter standards by which umpires are calling holding.
The league is also concerned by the number of players losing their helmets during play, and has begun counting the instances of it happening, McKay said. This past offseason the league instituted a new rule where plays are whistled dead once the ballcarrier loses his helmet, but McKay said the league has noticed how often non-ballcarriers have had it happen.
"We're going back to each manufacturer and asking why it's happening,'' McKay said. "It's definitely something we should be looking at. We're counting it and paying attention to the fact helmets are coming off at a faster rate than past years.''
• Ex-Bears head coach Mike Ditka, who's big in these parts from what I understand, spoke to NFL owners Tuesday in an attempt to generate more financial aid for retired players in need.
Asked if he foresaw a doomsday scenario regarding the league's upcoming labor negotiations, Ditka said: "With sane minds, it won't (happen). Ain't no one going broke in football. Greed is a great sin.''
• The Last Word: Colts owner Jim Irsay, on how the league knows it must consider NFL fans when its labor showdown with the players arrives in 2011: "People know this is a business, but people also know this is a love affair.''
That might be the most intelligent, realistic and honest assessment I've heard yet of the how the labor issue's effect on the game must be thought of.