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Overtime rules under review

Overtime and the state of labor negotiations will be the hot topics when the NFL owners gather in Orlando, Fla., for the league's annual meetings, which begin today.

The NFL's competition committee will recommend a revised overtime system that could allow both teams to have a possession.

Under the current overtime format, the first score of any kind wins the game. Under the new proposal, which would apply only to the postseason, the game wouldn't end unless the team that wins the coin toss scores a touchdown. If the team gets a field goal on its first series, the team that lost the toss would then get the ball.

If both teams score field goals on their initial possession, the game would revert back to the current sudden-death rules. The game would continue as usual if the receiving team doesn't score on its first possession of overtime.

Rich McKay, chairman of the NFL's competition committee, said statistics show that teams winning the coin toss have too great an advantage in overtime. He indicated that in overtime regular-season games from 1974 through 1993, teams that won the toss (94 games) and teams that lost the toss (94 games) each won 46.8 percent of the time. The other 6.5 percent were games (13) that ended in a tie.

In 244 regular-season overtime games from '94 through the 2009 season, the team that won the overtime coin toss won 146 games or 59.8 percent of the time. The team that lost the toss won 38.5 percent of the time (94 games). Four games, or 1.6 percent of the overtime contests, have ended in a tie between '94 and '09.

"When sudden death was put in, in 1974, it clearly worked very well. It was a good system. No. 1, it had excitement. No. 2, it broke ties," McKay said during a national conference call earlier this week. "Changes occurred over time. Now the numbers have changed pretty dramatically."

McKay attributes the large statistical swing to improved field-goal accuracy and the skills of return teams. The competition committee's research found that since 1994, when the kickoff was moved back 5 yards to the 30-yard line, teams winning the OT coin toss won 34.4 percent of the games on the first series. The outcome was decided by a kicked field goal 26.2 percent of the time, an increase from 17.9 percent in 15 years.

"I would say this is something that's been on our radar for a number of years and been talked about a lot," McKay said. "In the last four or five years, we have not proposed anything because we thought if there weren't enough votes [among the 32 owners], we should not propose it. This year, the statistics are so compelling we need to get the discussion going."

Twenty-four votes are needed to adopt the change. Whether the proposal will get enough votes to pass remains to be seen.

"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," McKay said. "Those on the other side will tell you [the current overtime system] 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."

McKay said the competition committee is proposing a change in playoff games only because there are just 1.2 overtime games per postseason as opposed to about 15.8 overtime contests per regular season. There were two overtime games in the playoffs last year, including the NFC Championship Game where the New Orleans Saints won the toss and beat the Minnesota Vikings with a field goal on their first drive. Under the proposal, the Vikings would have gotten a chance to tie the game with a field goal or win it with a touchdown.

Meanwhile, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to provide an update on whether there has been any movement toward a new collective bargaining agreement. The current CBA is set to expire next year. If a new deal isn't in place, there may not be football in 2011 as owners are expected to lock the players out.

While the NFL Players Association and the league have had discussions, the two sides are still far apart. Money is at the heart of the impasse.

The league contends the percentage of NFL revenue that goes to toward player salaries (it's nearly 60 percent) is too high and it threatens the profitability of some teams. The union's position is the NFL is on solid financial ground.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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