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Owners approve playoff OT change; Bills vote nay

The Buffalo Bills don't like the sudden turn in the NFL's sudden-death overtime format. They are in the minority, however.

A measure to modify overtime rules for the playoffs was passed overwhelmingly by the owners Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings. The proposal, introduced by the league's competition committee, received 28 favorable votes (24 are required to pass a rule).

The Bills were among four teams -- with Cincinnati, Baltimore and Minnesota -- to vote against it.

Under the new system, the game will not automatically end unless the receiving team scores a touchdown on its first possession.

If the receiving team scores three points, the team that kicked off would get the ball with a chance to win with a touchdown. If it ties the game with a field goal, the game would return to the sudden-death format and the next score wins.

The game can also end if the kicking team scores a defensive touchdown or safety or if it scores after recovering an onside kick.

Although the owners voted on the rule change, the Bills let coach Chan Gailey make the decision on how they would vote, according to General Manager Buddy Nix.

Nix said that Gailey didn't like the rule applying just to the playoffs and not the regular season, which continues with the traditional sudden-death format.

"He just felt the rules should be the same," said Nix, who told reporters Monday that he favored the rule change. "It's not that big an issue, really. But the rule is the same for everybody."

It is possible regular-season games will eventually be included in the overtime rule change. Owners are expected to continue discussing the issue and they could decide to use the rule for all overtime games at their May meeting in Dallas.

"There was a lot of sentiment in the room to change this rule in the regular season," competition committee co-chairman Rich McKay said. "The idea was to go back, study it and then come back to use it. It might be in May, or next year, or whenever. I think people acknowledged that this system, from a numerical standpoint, needed to be changed."

There was a lot of doubt the rule would pass when the league meetings began on Sunday. But it was pushed by the competition committee and endorsed by Commissioner Roger Goodell.

They sold most of the teams on the change because of the increasing number of overtime games won by the team that won the coin toss.

When overtime was introduced to the regular season in 1974, there was an even split in games won by teams that won the coin toss and those that didn't. But the numbers changed dramatically when kickoffs were moved from the 35-yard line to the 30 in 1994. Teams winning the kickoff have won 59.8 percent of the time, compared to 38.5 percent for teams that kick off.

"We have discussed proposals about overtime over the last several years, and the more you saw the statistics, the more it became obvious we really needed to do something," said Bill Polian, Indianapolis Colts president and a competition committee member. "Once we got here and began to discuss it with people and explain it to them, many more people said we're concerned this is a problem."

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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