New Overtime Rules Key Issue at NFL Owners Meeting

ORLANDO, Fla. — In a sport built on intricate game plans in which inches often decide outcomes, the last thing the NFL wants is to rely on randomness.

So when NFL owners discuss many issues at their meetings this week, none will be juicier than a potential modification of overtime in the playoffs.

The league's competition committee has recommended that a team yielding a field goal on the first series of the extra period will then get a possession. If that team scores a touchdown, it wins. If it fails to score, it loses. But if it kicks a field goal, the game will continue under the current sudden-death rules.

Competition committee co-chairman Rich McKay cited statistics since 1994 that show teams winning the coin toss win the game 59.8 percent of the time. The team that loses the toss wins the game 38.5 percent in that 15-year span, or since kickoffs were moved back 5 yards to the 30.

"There are advocates who will say that we're trying to put in a system that emphasizes more skill and more strategy in overtime as opposed to the randomness of the coin flip," says McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons. "Those on the other side will tell you it works pretty well, it's exciting, and there's an opportunity for less plays, and that is an important product that's needed in overtime."

But the hefty swing in advantage toward teams winning the toss prompted the committee to take action. With 24 of the 32 owners required to pass a rule change, McKay is uncertain if the adjustment to overtime will happen. It is, he says, time to find out.

"In the past, people have been quick to say that our system works very well and why would we change it," he said. "That's always been a blocking point, if you will, to change.

"In this case, we just try to make a statistical argument that the time may have come to innovate a little bit when it comes to overtime and there's a reason statistically to do so. But it will be interesting to see when we get to that discussion."

Overtime is one of many issues the owners will examine. They also will get updates on the status of negotiations with the players union toward a collective bargaining agreement. Without a new one by next March, a work stoppage could occur.

The league comes off a season of record TV ratings, strong attendance and burgeoning interest in what already is the nation's most popular and profitable sport. But there always are plenty of subjects examined by McKay, co-chairman Jeff Fisher, coach of the Tennessee Titans, and the seven-man competition committee.

Overtime will draw most of the headlines, but also on the agenda are:

  • Further protection of defenseless players.

    Unnecessary roughness penalties were up slightly in 2009. The committee found instances of hits it would like to see changed by lowering the target area and ensuring a receiver not only has completed a catch, but has had time to protect himself. A defensive player would be prohibited from launching into the receiver in any way that causes the defensive player's helmet, facemask, shoulder or forearm to forcibly strike the receiver's head.

  • Further protection of long snappers on field goals. The committee proposes that no player can line up within the frame of the body of the snapper, which should give the snapper an opportunity to get his head up and protect himself.

    "We tried to do that a couple of years ago and we haven't gotten that accomplished as well as we would like," McKay said.

  • A dead ball if a runner loses or has his helmet come off during a play. This is similar to college rules.
  • A ball hitting a scoreboard — based on punts potentially hitting the overhanging videoboard at the new Cowboys Stadium — is a dead ball. This rule temporarily was instituted for the 2009 season and could become permanent.
  • Dead-ball penalties would carry over to the second half or into overtime when they happen as the clock runs out in the second or fourth quarters.
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