Defensive players to get helmet radios

NEW YORK - The Arena Football League will be the first professional football league to allow defenses to use on-field communication devices, under a rules change approved yesterday by the league Board of Directors.

The decision to allow one defensive player on each team radio communication with coaches is aimed at improving competition and providing national TV rights owner ESPN with more content for fans, said Shy Anderson, chairman of the AFL Rules and Competition Committee.

"The atmosphere and the energy that the fans emit during an Arena Football game is such that both teams need to be on equal footing with communication from coaches," Anderson said.

Last December, ESPN and the AFL reached a 5-year deal that includes a minority stake in the indoor league. In all, 26 games - 17 regular-season and nine postseason - will be televised by ESPN/ABC outlets.

Previously, only quarterbacks had been allowed to wear a communication device.

"The main concern was competition, but we are excited as this will also provide ESPN an opportunity to allow the viewing fans to get a look at what both teams are thinking pre-snap," Anderson said. *