Owners to tackle OT, address wild cards

Expanded playoff field, change from sudden death to be voted on in Phoenix

Pro Football

March 23, 2003|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

History dictates that, despite a healthy dose of supporters, it may not yet be time to pass the top two proposals to be voted on at the annual NFL owners meeting that runs today through Wednesday in Phoenix.

Owners of the 32 NFL teams are expected to vote on a proposal submitted jointly by the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots to expand the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams, essentially creating a third wild card in each conference. If that plan were to pass, only the top seed in each conference would receive a first-round bye.

Team owners also are expected to vote on a proposal submitted by the Chiefs to alter the overtime format, allowing each team to have at least one possession before the game becomes sudden death. The league's current overtime arrangement, in which a coin flip decides who will get the ball first and the first team that scores wins, has been in place since 1974.

"The history of our league tells us that rules that have been in place this long take two to three years before they get changed. They don't tend to happen the first year something is voted upon," said Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Rich McKay, co-chairman of the NFL's competition committee.

The eight-man competition committee, of which Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is a member, held an eight-day meeting in Naples, Fla., two weeks ago and was split over whether to change the overtime rules. The committee, though, is against expanding the playoffs next season.

Last season was the first year the NFL split into eight divisions of four teams after the addition of the Houston Texans.

"On the committee, we were less committed to [additional teams in the playoffs] because as we initially stated, we would like to have two years of data to take a look at it," Newsome said. "But it will go to the floor. Everything has to go to the floor for discussion, and if it's enough votes, then it will happen."

The vote on the overtime format is expected to be close. Proponents say the increase in where teams are starting drives and field-goal kickers with stronger, more accurate legs give the coin-flip winner an unfair advantage. Ten of the league-record 25 overtime games last year were won on the first possession.

The winner of the coin flip ends up winning 58 to 60 percent of the time, 38 to 40 percent of the time on its first possession. "And that's somewhat problematic," McKay said.

But those against the proposal say it likely will create more ties. If both teams score touchdowns on their possessions, that would likely leave less than half a quarter to decide a winner. "I think there is concern in supporting that format that we don't want to get back to a system that creates more ties," McKay said.

Also on the agenda is the league's push to hire more minorities to head-coaching and front-office personnel positions.

"It is one of the priorities of the meeting," said Joe Browne, the NFL's executive vice president of communications and public affairs. "It is a very important issue, but at the same time, we are not exactly in our hiring season right now. We do have some breathing room here before the next round of hires takes place. But it is something that will be discussed."

The owners also will decide what to do about the NFL Europe season in light of the war in Iraq and review the replay-challenge system. Coaches get two replay challenges a game now, but the Cleveland Browns submitted a proposal that would allow teams to keep their number of challenges if successful.

"We as a committee did not support that proposal because our view is twofold," McKay said. "No. 1, this year is the final year of our three years that replay has been approved for and we are not necessarily comfortable with tinkering with the rule.

"The one thing we do not want to do is encourage challenges. The concern about giving challenges back, even when they are successful, is you might in some way be encouraging challenges."

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