NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue indicated yesterday that he will take no action against Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis if he's acquitted on murder charges in Atlanta.
When Tagliabue was asked at the end of the annual two-day May NFL owners meeting here yesterday if Lewis could be suspended even if he's acquitted, Tagliabue said it wasn't the right time for him to comment because the matter was before a jury.
"It's a little hard to envision that, but I can't think of every conceivable scenario," he said.
That means Lewis should be able to play this fall for the Ravens if he's acquitted.
Tagliabue, who suspended three players for two games earlier this year for off-the-field conduct, indicated suspensions will continue for players who are convicted of crimes.
He said the league wanted to make it clear that players understand "they can forfeit their right to play" for misconduct.
Tagliabue said he felt the issue of player conduct has to be addressed at the club level.
He added, "We have to be smart and we have to be street smart, but we shouldn't overreact. We have good policies in place."
The owners spent a lot of time discussing scheduling concepts for Houston's entry into the league in 2002 as the 32nd team, although they didn't come to any decisions.
One of the debates is about whether to increase the number of playoff teams from 12 to 14. A majority seem to favor that idea, and one team, Kansas City, even favored going to 16.
But there's a faction of owners who argue that the number of playoff teams shouldn't be increased.
Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, said, "I think 12 is enough. We've got to keep the sanctity of our game. Every game we play is so important. If you win your division, you've done something. You don't need to load it up with wild cards."
Another subject that will be debated will be whether to seed playoff teams by records, so that a wild- card team could be seeded above a division winner for the purposes of home-field advantage.
If the league seeds the teams in each conference, only the top seed would receive a bye the first weekend.
In another development at the meetings, Tagliabue appointed a committee of four owners to survey all the teams on how to improve the operation of the league.
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The committee will consist of conference presidents Wellington Mara of the New York Giants and Lamar Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs, plus Ralph Wilson of the Buffalo Bills and Al Lerner of the Cleveland Browns.
Wilson has called for the league to hire an outside consultant to poll the clubs, but agreed as a compromise to join a committee of owners to do the same thing.