NFL playoff seeding change lacks Bucs' support

The mane issue with Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.

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The mane issue with Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.

The NFL's competition committee believes the time has come to revamp the way teams are seeded in the postseason.

And the Bucs couldn't disagree more.

When the league's owners meeting begins today in Palm Beach, one item to be discussed and voted on is a proposal that would give less weight to a division champion­ship in the playoff seeding process.

Under the proposal, the division winners with the two best records in each conference would earn a first-round bye. But beyond that, seeds 3-6 would be arranged based on win-loss records. That means a wild-card team could, theoretically, be seeded higher than a division champion and division winners could be forced to play on the road. If the 2007 Bucs would have been subject to this policy, they would have been seeded fifth, requiring them to play their first-round game at the Giants.

The idea, supporters say, is to ensure that late-season games are competitive by reducing the likelihood some teams will determine they have little to play for. That's what the Bucs did after clinching the NFC South with two games left. Tampa Bay opted to rest many starters, including quarterback Jeff Garcia, resulting in less competitive games.

Critics, however, say enacting the new rule would cheapen the value of a division title.

"To me, I don't believe it does," said Falcons president Rich McKay, who, along with Titans coach Jeff Fisher, is co-chairman of the committee.

"I know there are others who are going to take the other position, and I respect them for it. But I would say that to make as many games competitive late in the year as we can without (impacting) the third and fourth division records, I think this would be a good thing for the league."

Passage requires 24 of the 32 clubs to vote in favor. Do not expect Tampa Bay to vote affirmatively.

"It's a strange time to make this proposal," Bucs general manager Bruce Allen said. "Two of the last three Super Bowl winners (the Steelers and Giants) have (gotten there) by playing on the road. We've always, as a league, treated division champs as special. I really don't know what they hope to accomplish."

Allen declined to speculate Friday whether the proposal has the necessary support, but he previously has gone on record saying he thought it lacked enough votes.

The Bucs have put forward a proposal that would expand the game-day active roster by one to 46, with a designated 47th player who could serve only as a long snapper. With the rash of injuries that hit the team last season, Allen and the Bucs are looking for more flexibility.

"When you're limited in the number of players you have available, you're risking starters on special teams," Allen said.

Many of the items on the agenda this week deal with so-called "integrity of the game" issues or measures aimed at ensuring the league prevents further controversies such as the Patriots' spying scandal. It's believed the coach-to-defense communication system is likely to pass, in part because of the emphasis lately on offenses' ability to steal defensive hand signals.

NFL vice president of operations Ray Anderson said the league also is considering a system whereby rules violations can be reported anonymously. Also on the table are stricter accountability procedures that will require ownership or management to certify their team's compliance with competitive rules.

DRAFT MODE: The Bucs' front office has basically entered its draft mode, honing in on players the team is targeting. But Allen said, "There's still an eye toward some veterans who are free agents or are going to become free agents." That's an indication the Bucs expect some intriguing players to be cut loose in the coming weeks.

SIMMS UPDATE: Regarding quarterback Chris Simms, who said last week that he was opting to skip optional offseason workouts because of his unclear status with the club, Allen said he hasn't engaged in talks about trading the player.

"We're more interested in acquiring players," Allen said.

Keep in mind, discussion of draft-day trades often begins during the owners meeting.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

.FAST facts

The issues

Some of the proposals to be discussed and voted on at this week's owners meeting:

• Allow defenses to use in-helmet communications

• Expand instant replay to include field goals

• Forbid players' hair to cover jersey nameplates or numbers

• Eliminate 5-yard facemask penalties

• Institute a five- to seven-day negotiating period before free agency to reduce tampering

• Eliminate the force-out rule except when players are pulled out of bounds

NFL playoff seeding change lacks Bucs' support 03/29/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 4, 2008 5:19pm]

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