Competition committee chair wants to reconsider overtime rules

INDIANAPOLIS -- Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay doesn't like hearing people say the overtime coin toss usually determines the winner. He's even more unhappy seeing statistics back it up.

McKay, who's also the co-chairman of the NFL's competition committee, said Wednesday he believes the group needs to discuss possible overtime rules changes, even though there might not be overwhelming support to change it.

"Sudden death is a good procedure. It's fun, and everyone knows the rules," McKay said. "I would like to see the stats change because I don't like the fact that that the team winning the coin flip now wins 60 percent of the time, and the team winning the coin flip, 40-plus percent of the time, wins it on the first possession."

Those numbers have increased in recent years in part, some believe, because of other rules changes. The league has moved kickoffs back to the 30-yard line and brings in new balls for kicks to reduce loft and distance, hoping to reduce touchbacks and give returners a better chance at long runbacks.

The current overtime rules encourage teams to play for field goals -- usually by attempting short, risk-averse drives. One possible change discussed was moving kickoffs in overtime further up to force longer drives in overtime.

The committee, which met in Indianapolis before the NFL Scouting Combine begins Thursday, won't meet again until next month.

But with no formal proposal and surveys showing that many coaches support the format established in 1974 to reduce ties, there's no guarantee any changes will be made for the 2009 season.

McKay didn't offer any suggestions, and the committee has generally been opposed to adopting an overtime structure similar to the one used in college and high school football, where teams alternate possessions deep in opposing territory until they determine a winner. It can be heart-stopping for fans and players, but the format has produced some marathon games -- the NCAA record is seven. Those epics had 14 possessions -- albeit short ones -- after regulation.

That could be a problem in the NFL, where players aren't teenagers, and rosters are tiny by comparison.

"The thing is it is relatively quick -- I think we averaged about 16 plays per overtime period this year," McKay said. "You don't want to add more plays because it's a long season, and we don't want to promote ties."

Tennessee Titans' coach Jeff Fisher, the other committee co-chairman, agrees with those points and believes the league needs more study to find out if the most recent numbers are an anomaly or a trend -- that could help determine whether changes are needed.

"I think it's a system we're all used to, and you're always concerned when a random coin toss determines the outcome of a game," he said.

But it has worked for more than three decades, and while it's clearly an imperfect system, nobody is willing to say it needs an overhaul yet.

"We'll keep working through it, and I'm sure the membership will be discussing something," McKay said. "I think the membership surveys say most are generally accepting of what we have now, so I don't see a clamoring for a change."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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