Rules proposal passes on 28-4 vote

Updated: March 24, 2010, 3:26 PM ET
By John Clayton and Chris Mortensen | ESPN.com

The NFL owners voted to change an element in the overtime rule, giving a possession to the team that loses the coin toss at the start of OT if the team that wins the coin toss scores a field goal with its first possession.

The proposal passed 28-4. As it is written, the rules change applies just for the postseason, but the owners also decided to discuss adopting the changes for the regular season at their next meeting, in May in Dallas.

The Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals voted against the proposal.

The competition committee recommended the change in a vote of 6-2, and commissioner Roger Goodell supported the plan. He was able to secure enough votes to get the proposal passed on Tuesday, a day before the expected Wednesday vote.

The reason for the change is the increased accuracy of kickers since 1994, when the NFL moved kickoffs from the 35 to the 30 yard line, which created better field position for the teams that won the coin toss and received the kickoffs.

Statistics examined by the committee showed that, beginning in 1994, teams that win the coin toss have won overtime games 59.8 percent of the time. Those statistics showed that since 1994, the team that won the overtime coin toss won the game 34.4 percent of the time on the first possession.

"We've had this discussion for a number of years," competition committee co-chairman Rich McKay said. "We feel this year's proposal gave us the opportunity to [install] a pretty good rule. Statistically, we felt it needed to be changed. It wasn't creating the fairest result as far as field goal accuracy, field goal distance and drive starts."

"Plenty of people on the committee, myself included, are so-called traditionalists," Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian said. "I am proud to be one. But once you saw the statistics, it became obvious we had to do something."

McKay said one of the selling points was it maintained the sudden-death aspect of overtime.

This is not a one-year experiment. The vote is a permanent change to the overtime rule, which was established in 1974 to minimize the number of games ending in ties.

McKay didn't rule out the possibility that the change would be implemented in time for the 2010 regular season, but he doubted the discussion would result in such quick movement.

Minnesota lost last season's NFC Championship Game in overtime to New Orleans. The Saints won the toss, drove downfield and kicked a field goal to win.

McKay and Polian both said the Vikings-Saints game had little role in passage of the rule change.

"That's interesting," McKay said. "One of the teams that voted against was in the game and, last I checked, I don't think they won."

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said Monday he was inclined to vote against the modification.

"You need consistency of the regular season and the postseason," Wilf said.

Polian said overtime rules already are different during the season, when games end in ties after a 15-minute OT, and the playoffs, when a winner must be determined.

McKay and Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, the other competition committee co-chairman, said coaches quickly began favoring the change once they learned the details. It became such a hot issue that the owners' vote was taken one day earlier than expected.

One of those coaches, Marvin Lewis of the Bengals, is on the committee. Hours before his team voted no, Lewis expressed approval for the alteration.

"There's a lot of elements that come into play," Lewis said. "For all the proposals we've discussed, this is, I think, the most complete one."

McKay said it was critical in making the rule change that "no phase of the game" was "adversely affected."

The players' union has said it believes any change in overtime needs to be collectively bargained. Of course, the contract between the league and players expires next March. While the competition committee briefly discussed potential OT changes with the union in February, the NFLPA was not consulted this week.

Denver Broncos receiver Brandon Stokley doesn't like the rule change.

"I just think that they should keep it like it is," he said. "It makes things interesting. Some people don't like the coin toss, but that's just the way it goes. If you're on defense first and you don't have the ball, you've just got to stop them."

Chris Mortensen is ESPN's senior NFL analyst. John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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