Long hair, playoff seeding on docket at owners meetings

Updated: March 31, 2008, 1:28 AM ET
Associated Press

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Mike Nolan thinks there are reasons beyond safety for the proposal that could lead to an NFL ban on hair hanging from the back of helmets.

"The nameplate is on his back; the number is on his back," the San Francisco 49ers coach said Sunday, the day before the NFL's meetings officially begin. "That's what we want the fans to see. Not his hair."

This might be a year when fans actually take interest in what owners do at these gatherings. Many meetings are filled with arcane proposals, like changing the positioning of offensive linemen's arms during blocks. This season, at least, there is some meat among the suggestions.

Or at least some hair.

The idea of banning long hair -- players would be allowed to tuck it under their helmets -- was proposed by the Chiefs. Kansas City's Larry Johnson tackled Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu by the hair after an interception in a 2006 game.

Whether the measure will pass is problematic: The Chiefs bring a proposal for a rules change most years, and almost all of them fail to get the 24 votes needed from the 32 teams.

The other rules proposals come from the competition committee, which has more clout. Among them:

• Changing the playoff seeding so that a wild-card team could get home-field advantage in a first round game if it has a better regular-season record than a division winner.

"I like it because it makes teams play out the season," said Detroit Lions president Matt Millen, a member of the competition committee.

Last year, two wild-card teams with better records went on the road and both won: the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants in Tampa and Jacksonville in Pittsburgh. The Bucs benched regulars for the final game and finished 9-7 to 10-6 for New York, which didn't need its home field, where it finished 3-5. The Giants won their last 10 road games, including three playoff games.

• The college option on the coin toss, allowing teams to defer taking the ball until the second half.

• Ending the forceout rule on receptions and interceptions. Currently, the play stands if a player is forced out of bounds making a catch. If changed, a player must get both feet down in bounds under all circumstances.

• Eliminating the 5-yard "incidental facemask" penalty. Grabbing the facemask and turning it would lead to an automatic 15-yard penalty.

• Instant replay on field-goal attempts. This was proposed in part because of a game last season in which Cleveland's game-tying field goal against Baltimore appeared to hit the crossbar and bounced back on the field. It was eventually ruled to have hit the support stanchion behind the crossbar and was good. The Browns went on to win in overtime.

On the business side, there will be discussions on a variety of issues, including the impending labor talks. Some owners have predicted the league will opt out of the labor contract in November, the date for reopening the deal. But despite rhetoric from the union and some owners, league officials note all that will do is set the stage for new negotiations -- with no other potential ramifications until 2010, a season without a salary cap if no new deal can be worked out.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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