ORLANDO, Fla. -- As coaches and other team officials took advantage of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel's on-site golf grounds, NFL owners decided to vote -- and pass, by a 28-4 margin -- new rules that could affect the outcome of playoff games in overtime. It was a historic vote, as now a field goal on the opening drive allows the team that didn't win the overtime coin toss an opportunity to win the game.
The rules and some of the machinations involved weren't the intriguing part of this vote. The overwhelming support was somewhat of a surprise, as was the impromptu nature of the process, which was expected one day later after projections of a health care-like debate. The real gripping element to all this was how the conversation of this new rule rapidly turned from a playoff-only change, beginning in 2010, to the possibility of it being applied to the upcoming regular season.
The momentum of this change is serious and, as we just saw with how rapidly it was voted in, don't be shocked if it will be applied to regular-season play in the near future.
There were differing opinions as to whether or not the owners could push things through in their May meetings in Dallas, but the possibility of it happening is very real. The pre-vote public push for the overtime change from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and several influential people (Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian, Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones) also support it for the regular season.
Implementing the changes before the playoffs seems to make sense, even though players could be exposed to longer games that could increase their chances of injury -- something that must be taken seriously.
Let's examine the new rules to see why the NFL shouldn't wait until the playoffs to implement them.
As is the case now, if the team with the first possession of overtime scores a touchdown, the game is over. The main change is that if the team with the first possession drives down the field and kicks a field goal, the opposing team gets a possession. If that team scores a touchdown, the game is over. If it kicks a field goal in response, the game goes to sudden death.
For a coach, this pretty much means that if your team wins the toss, you'll have to play aggressively to score a touchdown and wrap things up right away. If you settle for a field goal and lose, imagine the second-guessing for not going for a touchdown. The owners were made aware of this, and that didn't deter them. So, more pressure is on coaches to be brilliant under pressure in overtime.
Now, imagine a coach and his players being put through this situation for the first time in a conference championship game. For 16 regular-season games and at least one playoff game, the team never had to worry about this. With a Super Bowl berth on the line, strategy becomes different and risk-taking greater. This is why the majority of coaches, who didn't have a vote, weren't in favor of a change.
"Just on the surface, without even delving into philosophies and so forth, I'm against structuring it differently in the playoffs than you would in the regular season," Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "At the most critical time, the rules of the game are going to change. From a selfish standpoint, I'm uncomfortable with that. In terms of having an opportunity to educate my players in regards to how things are going to play out, I'm uncomfortable with that -- and that's my opinion."
It's too late for coaches to complain about the overtime change. It's done. What they need to do now is start pushing for it to be used in the regular season so they can practice situations for months instead of cramming for one week before a playoff game.
The theory by those who pushed and voted for the overtime change is that it would add excitement to games because the team that didn't have the first possession still could have a chance. Well, if it adds excitement, why limit the potential thrill to just a handful of games played by a handful of teams at the most crucial point of the season?