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Support had to gauge for NFL's proposed change to playoff OT

It's a bold proposal that aims to correct what the NFL says is a growing trend, but the league's effort to change the overtime rule for playoff games might be a tough sell at the annual owners meeting this week in Orlando.

The competition committee will consider a proposal that would allow both teams to possess the ball in sudden death overtime in a playoff game if the team that wins the coin toss fails to score a touchdown on its first possession.

Currently, as in the regular season, if the team the wins the toss scores either a touchdown or a field goal on its first possession, the game is over. Under the proposed rule change, if the team that wins the toss kicks a field goal, the other team would get a possession also. If that team also scored a field goal, the present sudden-death format then would kick in, with the next team to score in any way the winner.

Under the proposal, if the team that wins the toss scores a touchdown, the game is over.

It's unclear how much support the proposal has. Passage requires yes votes from 24 of the 32 clubs.

Among those not in favor is the players union. Its reason is simple: Longer games mean a higher chance of injury.

The union usually has input into rule changes, said Falcons president Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee and formerly the Bucs' general manager.

"In this case, I will be quite frank. The players have always said to us consistently over probably the last five to six years, 'Overtime works well; sudden death is a good way to go,' " McKay said. "We still believe this proposal is sudden death. It's just modified in a certain way. The game can still end on one play at any time.

"But I would say to you that players traditionally have thought, as a lot of coaches have thought, the system works okay. It's sudden death. It works okay. Let's keep it as it is."

That sentiment was echoed by a player whose team last season was adversely affected by the current rule.

"Personally, I like it the way it is," said Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell, whose team lost the NFC Championship Game in overtime when Garrett Hartley's kick sent New Orleans to the Super Bowl on the first possession.

"If you get the ball, go score. If you don't get the ball, stop 'em," Longwell told the Associated Press.

The proposal does not address overtime in the regular season, so that would not change.

McKay said the change is necessary because playoff games are critical and there are, on average, 1.2 overtime games each postseason. He offered more statistical support: 38.5 percent of overtime games since 1994 have been won by the team that loses the coin toss. That compares with 46.8 percent between 1974 and 1993.

"Changes occurred over time," McKay said. "Now the numbers have changed pretty dramatically.

"So, I would say to you that 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. Those on the other side will tell you it works pretty well, it's exciting, and there's an opportunity for less plays."

Among the other proposals to be discussed at the owners meeting, which begins Monday and runs through Wednesday, is a measure that would add protections for receivers making catches.

It would be an extension of the "defenseless receiver" rule, which prohibits hits to the head until a player "has a chance to defend himself," McKay said. If the rule is implemented, such hits that are delivered prematurely would be considered unnecessary roughness.

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

Support had to gauge for NFL's proposed change to playoff OT 03/20/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 20, 2010 10:14pm]
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