TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The many lessons learned from 2020 will be needed as the NFL moves forward, Commissioner Roger Goodell noted Thursday in his annual state of the league news conference ahead of the Super Bowl.
Held before both in-person and virtual audiences and staged outside of the arena that is home to the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, Goodell said developments ranging from dealing with the coronavirus pandemic to minority coaching hires to scheduling to the NFL’s working relationship with the players’ union all will carry forward as major topics.
“I don’t know when normal will occur again or if normal will occur again,” he said. “I know we have learned to work in a very difficult environment, and we will do it again. That is one of the things we learned … hearing clubs and the NFLPA saying our relationship has never been stronger. I interpret that as a trust that has been built here that will take us forward and will be the long-lasting legacy of this season.”
That legacy, on the positive side, includes something the other major sports leagues and organizations couldn’t manage: playing a full season, uninterrupted, with the championship game on time despite COVID-19 issues.
“This was an extraordinary collective effort,” Goodell said. “There’s so many people that had to work together to get this done. There were doubters, people that didn’t believe we could do it, we had a lot of unknowns ourselves. We believed that staying on schedule and working to try to get 256 games done as we try to say, ’avoid the asterisk,′ I think we were able to do that.”
But the negative part of the legacy, one that has plagued a league made up of 70% minority players, has been the head coach hiring cycle. Goodell said the league is not satisfied with only two minorities hired for seven head coach openings: The New York Jets hired Robert Saleh, the first NFL coach who is known to be Muslim and the son of Lebanese immigrants, and Houston hired David Culley, making him only the league’s third Black current head coach.
“We had two minority coaches hired and it was not what we expected,” the commissioner said, “and not what we expect going forward.”
Goodell noted three African-American general managers were hired in 2020 and early 2021, with more diversity also seen among coordinators, something the NFL can build on. Asked if a hiring freeze on head coaches until after the Super Bowl would be discussed, Goodell said everything that could enhance diversity would be explored.
The offseason structure for the league is so uncertain that Goodell preferred not to be specific about training camps and preseason games, though he did say the NFL plans to hold international games next season. There’s no timeline for when the league has to decide whether to go ahead with international games in 2021, however.
“We hope to get to be there,” he said. “We’re planning for it. We’ll make that decision whenever we have enough information to do so.”
NFL Players Association President JC Tretter of the Cleveland Browns has suggested there is no need for required minicamps and other workouts at team facilities, given how the NFL got through 2020 without them.
But Goodell mentioned the opportunities younger players have to improve or just to make teams through preseason matches and offseason availabilities. He added the NFL will look into what changes from the pandemic season are worth keeping in a post-COVID-19 world.
“The virtuals are going to be a part of our life for a long time,” he said, because coaches and players were able to remotely work through the playbooks in 2020.
— Goodell said it’s far too early to talk about whether unvaccinated players will be playing next season or if fans will need to be vaccinated to attend games in 2021. The NFL hopes most of society is vaccinated by summer because it’s in the best interest of the country. If the NFL’s protocols must be altered, Goodell said the league will do so.
The NFL is endorsing the use of vaccines for the coronavirus pandemic by hosting 7,500 vaccinated healthcare workers at the Super Bowl on Sunday.
— An investigation into allegations of sexual harassment in the Washington Football Team’s organization will be finished soon. Beth Wilkinson was hired following a report in the Washington Post that 15 female employees team alleged sexual harassment and a poor working culture in the organization. Goodell said team owner Daniel Snyder has begun to make changes and is welcoming the probe.
“They asked for this type of review and recommendations on this,” he said.
— Goodell acknowledged that former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick deserves recognition and appreciation for bringing up issues of social justice and racism. Kaepernick highlighted those issues in the 2016 season when he kneeled during the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality.
Goodell publicly apologized to Kaepernick last year for the league not listening to him enough and taking his concerns more seriously. Kaepernick has been unable to get a contract with any other team after being let go by San Francisco following the 2016 season.
Goodell says the owners and league have worked with players to identify issues in their communities and says he is pleased with the commitment from the players and support from the owners.
Wilner reported from New York. AP Pro Football Writers Teresa M. Walker, Simmi Buttar, Josh Dubow and Arnie Stapleton contributed.
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On this week's episode of The Swing, Zach Heilprin and Jesse Temple look at the positives and negatives from a 1-1 week, talk about what Micah Potter's big game could mean for the starting lineup, discuss Wisconsin's Big Ten and NCAA tournament chances and answer your Twitter questions.
Micah Potter is making up for lost time.
In just his sixth game since becoming eligible, the junior scored 24 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for Wisconsin as it topped No. 20 Penn State 58-49 Saturday afternoon. Both totals were career highs for Potter.
“It was tough getting back into a rhythm when I was finally allowed to play,” Potter told the Big Ten Network. “But I really started to feel like I’m getting more comfortable now that I’ve got a couple of games under my belt.”
Potter scored 18 of his points in the first half, including going 4-for-5 from beyond the arc. It was a much needed lift off the bench because the starting unit couldn’t much of anything going. In fact, Potter scored the first basket by either side with 15:16 left in the first half. He went on to score the first 12 points for the Badgers.
“It was a slugfest,” Potter told BTN. “It was 0-0 before the first media timeout. I was glad I could provide that spark for the team.”
Wisconsin led 31-22 at the break, but Penn State got to within 41-37 with 10:43 left in the game. The Badgers answered with a 9-2 run capped by a 3-pointer from junior Brad Davison. The Nittany Lions would get no closer than 7 the rest of the way.
Davison had 11 points and a career-high 13 rebounds, while sophomore Kobe King had 10 points.
A few days after watching Illinois score 43 points in the second half alone, the Badgers held Penn State to just 49 for the game. It was the Nittany Lions lowest output this season.
The Badgers have now won three-straight on the road (at Tennessee, at No. 5 Ohio State, at No. 20 Penn State) after opening 0-5 away from Madison. They’ll now come home and face No. 12 Maryland on Wednesday.
The NFL is starting to take notice of what Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard is doing.
Before hiring Brandon Staley as his defensive coordinator, Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay reportedly had interest in Leonhard for the spot.
Leonhard just finished his third season leading the Badgers defense and fourth season overall as a college coach. After his first year as the defensive coordinator in 2017, he was reportedly in the running for the same job at Alabama and Florida State, but decided to remain at Wisconsin. He also got a hefty raise and made nearly $1 million this season. That made him the fourth-highest paid assistant in the Big Ten.
Prior to the Rose Bowl, Leonhard spoke about his rise in the profession and it seemed clear he was happy in his position at his alma mater.
"There’s only one place to do this job,” he told reporters. “That’s home. And that’s Madison for me."
On this week's Wisconsin Basketball Roundtable, we chat with our former Badgers -- Brian Butch, Josh Gasser and Mike Bruesewitz -- about what they've seen from the team so far, the strength of the Big Ten and catch up with what they've been doing in their lives. The Wisconsin State Journal's Jim Polzin also joins the show.
Wisconsin will open its home season on a Friday night for a third time in four years.
The Badgers announced Thursday that their game against Indiana on Sept. 4 would be at night, with the exact time to be announced.
Coach Paul Chryst’s team is unbeaten in night openers, taking out Utah State in 2017 and Western Kentucky in 2018. The Badgers also went on the road this past fall and beat South Florida on a Friday night in Tampa.
But this will be the first time they’ve opened the season against a Big Ten opponent since the 1982 season. That year they went to No. 12 Michigan and lost 20-9. It’s the first time the home opener is against a conference opponent since Wisconsin took down the No. 1 Wolverines in 1981.
Indiana went 8-5 and fourth in the Big Ten East this season.
Here’s the Badgers full 2020 schedule:
Sept. 4 - Indiana
Sept. 12 — Southern Illinois
Sept. 19 — Appalachian State
Sept. 26 — @ Michigan
Oct. 3 — vs Notre Dame (Lambeau Field)
Oct. 10 — vs Minnesota
Oct. 24 — at Maryland
Oct. 31 — Illinois
Nov. 7 — @ Northwestern
Nov. 14 — @ Purdue
Nov. 21 — vs Nebraska
Nov. 28 — @ Iowa
MADISON — Illinois snapped a 15-game losing streak to Wisconsin with a come-from-behind 71-70 win in Madison Wednesday night.
Wisconsin Player of the Game: Kobe King
The sophomore caught fire early in the second half scoring eight of Wisconsin first nine points. Then, with the Badgers trailing 71-67 in the final minute, he drilled a step-back 3-pointer. King finished with 21 points on 10-for-13 shooting. He’s now averaging 19.0 points per game in Big Ten play.
The good: Micah Potter
The junior had his best statistical night since becoming eligible, finishing with 13 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. With Nate Reuvers in foul trouble, the 6-foot-9 Potter gave the Badgers another big body to battle Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili. Potter did a lot of his damage at the free throw line where he was a perfect 8-for-8.
The not so good: That finish
Wisconsin led 63-56 with 4:50 left in the game. They proceeded to make just 2 of their next 10 shots and were outscored 15-7 the rest of the way. While the offense was not great, neither was the defense. The Badgers allowed the Illini to shoot 61.5-percent in the second half, including 71.4-percent from the 3-point line. Illinois had 43 points in the second half and topped 70 against the Badgers for the first time in 28 games.
Stat of the Game: 26.7-percent
That was the Badgers shooting percentage from beyond the arc. It was their second-worst effort at home this year. The 15 attempts were the fewest this season.
What they said:
Greg Gard on a rough defensive night by Wisconsin
“The offense wasn’t the problem. It was the other end of the floor.”
In Case You Missed It
— Wisconsin had a chance to win the game but Trice failed to convert on a drive to the hoop. Here’s what Trice was thinking on the play, followed by Gard’s take.
— Olivia Dekker did double duty Wednesday night. Not only did she serve as the Big Ten Network’s sideline reporter, she also sang the national anthem. If the last name sounds familiar it should. Dekker is married to former Badgers star Sam Dekker, who was quite proud of his wife’s effort.
— Wisconsin had allowed just one opponent (Green Bay) to score better than 1.0 points per possession this year. Illinois finished at 1.145 per possession.
-- Prior to the game, the Big Ten Network aired a special "The Journey" on Wisconsin assistant Howard Moore and the tragedy that his family and the program endured in the offseason.
Wisconsin (9-6, 2-2) will travel to No. 21 Penn State (12-3, 2-2) on Saturday to face the Nittany Lions.
Wisconsin is losing another playmaker.
As first reported by 247Sports, wide receiver/kick returner Aron Cruickshank has entered the NCAA’s transfer portal.
The move is a bit of a surprise as Cruickshank had really taken to his returner role, taking two kickoffs back for touchdowns, while also seeing an expanded role on offense, including some work as the quarterback in the wildcat.
But time at wide receiver was not easy to come by for the 5-foot-9, 161-pound Cruickshank. He was buried on the depth chart, with A.J. Taylor, Quintez Cephus, Danny Davis, Kendric Pryor, Adam Krumholz and Jack Dunn all seeing more playing time than him this season. Even with Taylor’s career coming to an end and Cephus declaring for the NFL draft, there was no guarantee that Cruickshank would see extended time at the position.
It is worth noting, though, that wide receiver coach Ted Gilmore did seem to believe at the Rose Bowl that Cruickshank would be around in the spring when he was asked about him.
“We need AC to take the next step,” Gilmore said. “He’s one of those that has to become more than just a situational guy.”
Cruickshank finished his time in Madison with 189 yards rushing and two touchdowns, along with four catches for 40 yards. He also averaged 24.6 yards per return on 49 kickoffs with two scores.
His departure comes on the heels of running back Jonathan Taylor and Cephus leaving early for the NFL. The trio combined for 36 touchdowns this season. It does, however, leave an opening for several other young wide receivers to step up, including Taj Mustapha and A.J. Abbott.
A third Wisconsin player is leaving early for the NFL.
Center Tyler Biadasz announced Wednesday afternoon that he would be foregoing his final year in Madison to make himself eligible for the 2020 NFL Draft.
A three-year starter, Biadasz won the Rimington Award this season. It goes to the top center in the country. He was part of an offensive line that helped the Badgers finish 15th in the country in rushing in 2019 and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors for his efforts.
Biadasz joins running back Jonathan Taylor and wide receiver Quintez Cephus in declaring for the draft early. It’s the first time Wisconsin’s had three players leave early in the same year.
The Badgers figure to move junior-to-be Kayden Lyles to center to replace Biadasz next fall.
On this week's episode of The Swing, Zach Heilprin and Jesse Temple talk about what's changed for Wisconsin in its four-game winning streak, the impact of Micah Potter, the continued maturation of Tyler Wahl and they answer your Twitter questions.