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NFL Spring League Meeting: Owners likely to shorten overtime

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CHICAGO -- With relocation no longer looming over their agenda, NFL owners are expected to turn their attention at a brief meeting here to two issues that will shape the game on the field.

Owners are expected to approve a proposal to reduce the length of overtime in the preseason and regular season from 15 minutes to 10 minutes. The shift is being billed as a player-safety issue, because of concerns about the number of additional plays if teams play a full 15-minute overtime, particularly if one of those teams has to play its next game on a short week.

When first discussed during March's Annual League Meeting in Phoenix, the idea garnered strong support from coaches, who see the effects of long overtimes up close. Baltimore's John Harbaugh said players are usually exhausted by the 10-minute mark of overtime, and they are merely trying to hang on for the final five minutes.

Reaction from fans, though, has been largely negative, mostly rooted in the premise that shorter overtimes will lead to more ties. Since the creation of modern overtime rules in 1974, there has never been more than two ties in a single season.

According to NFL Media research, there have been 83 overtime games in the last five seasons, 22 of them lasting at least 10 minutes into overtime (the average time elapsed in overtime in the last five years is 7 minutes, 43 seconds). There have been five games that ended in a tie in those five seasons, an average of one per year. If overtime had ended after 10 minutes, there would have been 16 total ties, for an average of 3.2 times per season.

However, coaches are not convinced that shorter overtimes will lead to more ties. Houston's Bill O'Brien said in March that, because coaches coach to the clock, he expects more aggressive play calling at the end of regulation and in overtime to avoid a tie.

One concern among owners is whether having a shorter overtime will place even more emphasis on winning the OT coin toss, because the offense could theoretically mount a drive that would consume all 10 minutes. Still, they are reluctant to alter overtime further or to experiment with a college-style OT, because they do not want the extra period to be played differently than the rest of the game. And members of the Competition Committee shrug off concerns that there could be more overtimes -- both Falcons president Rich McKay and Giants owner John Mara have said they view ties as a better tiebreaker when determining playoff spots and seeding than relying on some of the other statistics currently used, like point differential.

Owners also are expected to approve a proposal that should receive nearly universal support -- to allow teams to bring back two players from injured reserve during the season. Before 2012, when players were put on injured reserve, their seasons were over. As the rules currently stand, one player per season is eligible to return to practice if he has been on injured reserve for at least six weeks and he can return to games eight weeks after he was placed on injured reserve. In allowing a second player to return, the NFL will be providing greater roster flexibility and giving teams a better chance of having their best players on the field for critical late-season games.

Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners also are expected to review changes to the policy regarding on-field player celebrations, in an effort to ease some of the restrictions in place to allow more spontaneous celebrations that would not result in a penalty.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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