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NFL competition committee co-chair McKay talks OT, rules changes

RICH McKAY: We met in Indianapolis and the last week here in Naples. The process, as I probably described to many of you before, begins with a seasonal review of the statistics in the league. We send a survey to all the clubs, get the clubs' input and then take every single suggestion that any club raises and make sure we completely vet that suggestion.

We met with the NFLPA and player reps in Indianapolis to make sure we had their input on the rules and state of the game. Then this year we also met with the NCAA and some college football representatives to share ideas with respect to player safety and the state of their game. That's how we get to the point in the process where we are.

In looking at the game itself, we feel very comfortable that the game is in a really good place. This year, again, our focus is always on first looking at competitive balance. Competitive balance appears to be a very strong suit of ours at this time. The Saints won the Super Bowl this year, and that's the fifth team in the last 10 years to win a first-time Super Bowl for their franchise. In 2009 we had five different division winners, and we had six different playoff participants from 2008, which we view as another indication that the competitive balance remains very strong in our league.

Statistically, we saw the highest yards per game in the history of the league at 670 yards a game. Scoring was at 42.93, which is certainly within the ranges that we target. Plays per game were up a couple plays a game, which lead to time of game being up a minute and a half or so. Plays per game were at 153.6, and time of game was at 3:03:42. Statistically we think the game is in good stead.

This year our report and recommendations will have a heavy emphasis on player safety, as it always does.

With respect to player safety, we've got a number of recommendations and rules proposals. The main one is kind of a rewrite. A standardization and expansion of the protections applied to defenseless players; trying to make sure we have all the language that lines up with all those categories of players; and expanding the protection that applies to those players.

One thing we've done is propose that we would give additional protection to the receiver even after the receiver has caught the ball. That's always been a pretty tight line for us. In this instance we're going to try to expand that line and give him protection until he has an opportunity to defend himself from hits to the head by defenders launching upwards towards his head. We will propose that as an expansion to the rule.

We have other player safety rules we will propose. We want to protect the snappers more on the field goal tries. We tried to do that a couple of years ago and we haven't gotten that accomplished as well as we would like. So we're going to propose that no one can line up within the frame of the body of the snapper to try to give him an opportunity to get his head up and get himself protected.

We'll propose a rule that creates the ball being dead if a runner loses or has his helmet come off during a play, which is a college rule they've had and used. We watched some tape where there are instances where players are running in the field of play without their helmet. In our mind that is not a safe situation. We have rules such as that.

The big one is unnecessary roughness as it applies to the defenseless player. We are really kind of rewriting and expanding the protections that go there.

With respect to playing rules, we've got probably seven other playing rules that we'll propose. Some of them are smaller. Some of them we have to do based on last year. One is that there's a rule put in about the ball hitting the scoreboard based on the situation in Dallas. We'll resubmit that rule. We'll submit a rule on dead ball fouls.

Right now dead ball fouls on the offense do not have the ability to carry over to the second half and/or overtime from the fourth quarter. We would propose that those could be carried over. Likewise, dead ball fouls on defense would carry over.

We would propose a rule on instant replay with respect to the game clock on the last play. That was put in for the playoffs. We've modified our approach to that rule proposal and will submit that.

We will propose a rule on the modification of the sudden death procedure in overtime. We will say that we would like to have it where there would be an opportunity to possess in the event the first team with the ball does not score a touchdown.

We have another rule on player numbering systems to make sure it's uniform and to expand the opportunity for players to wear different numbers, acknowledging the fact that the teams are playing a 3-4 defense and you have players who end up being defensive ends and linebackers.

And there is one rule proposal that deals with instant replay in a 10 second runoff situation. Inside the last minute when a call on the field is reviewed and reversed and there should be a running clock, we'll standardize a 10 second runoff.

So that is in quick form a lot of the rules. We've got some other bylaws and some resolutions. One resolution applies to the situations in Indy and in Dallas with respect to the windows and the curtains. We want to standardize all that language to match up with the retractable roof policy already in place, that being that you need to declare what you're going to do in your configuration 90 minutes before the game.

We have a number of Competition Committee positions that will be in the back of the book that will be there for the clubs to review when we arrive on Sunday.

Q. Rich, can you go back to the last thing you said with the Indy and Dallas thing, what is that? Also, did you talk about the situation at Cowboy Stadium any further?
RICH McKAY: For Indy and Dallas with respect to the windows and curtain, all we did is propose language. We had similar language put in at the start of the year, but we proposed language that would become permanent, would match up with the retractable roof policy, which would say 90 minutes before the game the home team can declare whether those windows will be open or closed. Whichever way they declare, they'll remain in that position unless you declared them open and it began to rain. Then you could close them. Or if hazardous weather came up, obviously you would close them. Same rule would apply to the curtain in Dallas.

With respect to the scoreboard, we talked about it. But we again noted that it did not happen during the season. We reviewed the rule that was put in place on a temporary basis for the year and we kind of like the way that rule operated and looked. Obviously it never came into play. We will resubmit that rule for a permanent rule.

GREG AIELLO: What was that rule?
RICH McKAY: Some people refer to it as the 'do over rule'. It creates a dead ball if it hits the board. It also creates a situation where if the replay assistant were to deem it having hit the board, he could stop the game, review the play, and it would not require a coach's challenge. We also provide that in the event a coach thought that it hit the board but the replay assistant didn't, he was allowed to challenge if he would like.

Q. You deemed the 90 feet to be just fine?
RICH McKAY: There was no real discussion of that because of the fact that it didn't occur this year. We did not have anybody come in and make an argument that it should be higher, lower, or different. It really wasn't discussed.

Q. Rich, do you have any sense at this point whether the votes will be there on the overtime modification? Obviously you've looked at this in the past and it doesn't seem like there's ever been a consensus. Do you have any sense at this point whether there will be enough behind this to pass it?

RICH McKAY: I don't. This is one of those times where we're really kind of backed up in the time frame from when our meetings are to when we start the league meeting. We basically only have four or five days. I can't say that I have any sense for the votes.

In the past, people have been quick to say that our system works very well and why would we change it. That's always been a blocking point, if you will, to change.

In this case, we just try to make a statistical argument that the time may have come to innovate a little bit when it comes to overtime and there's a reason statistically to do so. But it will be interesting to see when we get to that discussion.

I think we've had probably two or three votes over the years. One was on the two possession proposal, one was on moving the kickoff. I think the two possession proposal might have gotten 18 votes. I don't think moving the kickoff got that far. We'll see.

This doesn't mean that as a committee we shouldn't try to bring this or other issues up. But I don't really sense what the vote would be.

Q. Rich, as far as that overtime proposal, what are some of the pros and cons that is part of the Committee's discussion with this thing?

RICH McKAY: Let's look at it statistically. It's pretty clear there's been a change. When sudden death was put in in 1974, it clearly worked very well. It was a good system. Number one, it had excitement. Number two, it broke ties. From '74 to '93, in that time period, you had literally a 50/50 split between those that won the toss and those that lost the toss. Those that won, won 46.8 percent of the time and those that lost won 46.8 percent of the time. So it was a system that worked very well.

Changes occurred over time. Now the numbers have changed pretty dramatically. Now the team that wins the toss wins 59.8% and the team that loses the toss wins 38.5%. The pros of the switch is it tries to rebalance the advantage that's been gained since '94 based on field goal accuracy being greatly improved, field position being improved.

So I would say to you that there are advocates who will say that we're trying to put in a system that emphasizes more skill and more strategy in overtime as opposed to the randomness of the coin flip.

Those on the other side will tell you it works pretty well, it's exciting, and there's an opportunity for less plays, and that is an important product that's needed in overtime.

That's one of the reasons we proposed it for postseason only because historically the postseason has averaged about 1.2 overtime games, and the regular season has averaged about 15.8. That's why we started with the postseason proposal.

Q. Rich, was the three point stance discussed at all?

RICH McKAY: No, it was not discussed in our meetings. I know in Coach Madden's subcommittee during the season it was discussed. I think from a long-range perspective, that's what they were looking at. But it was not discussed in our committee meetings.

Q. On the OT, this would only apply to the playoffs and the Super Bowl?

RICH McKAY: That's correct.

GREG AIELLO: How about the Pro Bowl?

RICH McKAY: We didn't write it in there, so I would figure yes.

Q. Rich, I'm curious about the time frame. You say it's changed dramatically to now you have either 59.8 or 58.9. How long a time frame are you analyzing this?

RICH McKAY: We look at the time frame from 1974 to 1993 and look at all the stats that apply to that time frame. In 1994 when the kickoff moved from the 35 to the 30, we look at it from '94 to 2009. Those are the two time frames we compare.

Q. Why not move the kickoff back where it was?

RICH McKAY: We proposed that a few years ago, but it did not prevail. The reasoning about that was, number one, I don't think that would move the statistics as dramatically as you might think because of the improved field goal accuracy that's occurred over the years. Number two, there are those that will take the position if they built their football team to have a kickoff specialist, and then in overtime you decided that kickoff specialist was less valuable, you've messed with the way they've built their team, if you will.

The same applies to the team that says they have a returner that they think is special. So we weren't able to get that through either. We tried that.

Q. So it's fair to say that the motivation for this is to deemphasize the importance of the kicking game in overtime as opposed to the plays from scrimmage?

RICH McKAY: I don't think it's that. I think it's to deal with the advantage that's been created by the coin toss because of a combination of both of the items that you've listed.

Q. Again, I'm not trying to have an argument, just more curious. Why make a change? It seems from listening to you that a lot of the reasons for the change are tied to the kicking game and a feeling that maybe you don't want the kicking game to have as strong a hand in deciding overtime games as it apparently now has.

RICH McKAY: That's a good question.

I guess I don't see it that way. You'd have to ask the other committee members how they see it. The kicking game has become, in terms of field goal accuracy, exceptional. Accordingly, you now have a situation where if you get a good return, you get one pass that creates, either by pass interference or a completed pass, a 52 yard field goal, and the game is over. In our mind that probably wouldn't have happened prior to '93 as much.

What's happened as a result of the efficiency of the return game or because of the kickoff yard line, coupled with the accuracy of the field goal kickers, you've now created an advantage, almost I guess a 20% advantage, for the team winning the toss.

Q. To clarify, it was 58.9 or 59.8?

RICH McKAY: 59.8.

Q. I want to check a couple things on the offense. Your proposal is only for the playoffs and Super Bowl; the regular season will stay the same?


Q. Won't that lead to talk about two separate sets of rules or is that not a problem?

RICH McKAY: We traditionally have always said we want to have the same rules for the regular season and postseason. We already have a different rule for overtime in the postseason. That rule is that the game doesn't end at the end of 15 minutes. We continue and carry over.

Our feeling was that this is justified given the fact that this is the end of the game and this deals a little more in our mind with the idea that people think we would put too many snaps into the game potentially if we did it in the regular season.

Q. With these kickers being better, any talk about moving the goalpost back?

RICH McKAY: Where would you put it?

Q. Can't go any further back, okay.

RICH McKAY: I don't think so (laughter).

Q. Forget that idea.

RICH McKAY: All right. All ideas are acceptable. That one just might not work (smiling).

Q. Rich, again on the overtime. On the 59.8% and the other number, is that teams that win the coin toss winning on their first possession?

RICH McKAY: No, that's winning the game.

Q. Winning the game?

RICH McKAY: That's correct. The winning on their first possession number is now, in what I'll call the second era, which is '94 to 2009, that number is now 34.4%. Before '93, that number was 25.4%.

Q. And do you have a number on how many of those were won by field goals?

RICH McKAY: Yeah. Hold it. I've got numbers for everything. On the first possession, those field goals are 26.2% of the time people win on the first drive with the field goal.

Q. That's since '94?

RICH McKAY: That's correct.

Q. And just to clarify. On the proposal, if the team scores a touchdown, do they have to make the extra point?


Q. No?


Q. And just off subject for a moment on player safety. Any discussion on the whole discussion about helmets and practice and OTAs, all those things?

RICH McKAY: In Indianapolis we had some discussions. We had some thoughts. Nothing beyond that. We didn't write anything down. We just kind of had roundtable discussions and it hasn't gone any further than that. I think we're getting ready to start our offseasons now. So far as I understand it, we'll go forward the same way we have before.

Q. Rich, is the committee making a recommendation on this? Secondly, is there a group of teams or a single team that is driving that the time has come to change overtime?

RICH McKAY: The committee will recommend it for the membership to vote upon. And, no, I wouldn't say there's any single team. I would say this has been something that has been on our radar for a number of years and has been talked about a lot.

Sometimes in a couple of years, in the last four or five years, sometimes we have not proposed anything because we've thought, 'Well, if it's not going to get enough votes, let's not propose it. ' This year I think we came back with the idea that we need to go back and look at it because the statistics are so compelling and we need to get the discussion going again. But I wouldn't say it's one team driving it.

Q. Rich, I was curious about the unnecessary roughness with the defenseless player. Did you feel the emphasis that it was effective to the point where you had some numbers where players were committing less of these penalties? Was it up or down or do you think it's primarily a problem with instances like Baltimore and Cincinnati?

RICH McKAY: Unnecessary roughness was up in 2009, but slightly, not dramatically. We watched so much video that I can't describe for you how much video we watched. We literally saw every injury this year. We saw all the tape on the defenseless player and the defenseless receiver.

There are definitely some instances in which there are hits we would like to see changed, and the target area or the launch area, if you will, lowered. That's why we proposed that we expand the defenseless receiver protection even a little more.

I've been on the Committee probably 17 years now, and I would say if you look back at the defenseless receiver, compared to where we were in '94 and '95, and the hits that some of those receivers took, I think the rule has come a long way in preventing a lot of those hits that we saw in those days.

But there's more we would like to limit.

Q. Rich, one question about the union involvement in the overtime change. Has the union signed off on it? If not, will union approval be sought before this will be finalized?

RICH McKAY: No. What we do, when we meet with the NFL Players Association, we tell them what's on our plate. That's on about the third day in Indianapolis. So it's not like we've sat there and written down all our proposals and what they will look like. We will send them our proposals. They don't traditionally vote or have a vote.

But I will say this. They usually have input. In this case I will be quite frank. The players have always said to us consistently over probably the last five to six years, 'overtime works well, sudden death is a good way to go.' For this one, it's not like we spent a lot time with them saying we still believe this proposal is sudden death, it's just modified in a certain way.

But the game can still end on one play at any time. But I would say to you that players traditionally have thought, as a lot of coaches have thought, the system works okay. It's sudden death. It works okay. Let's keep it as it is.

We will send them this proposal. If we hear any feedback, we'll obviously listen to it and tell the membership what it is.

GREG AIELLO: It was discussed with them in Indianapolis this year, right?

RICH McKAY: Yes, it was.

Q. Rich, just wondering if you could clarify in regard to the overtime rule, if one team kicks a field goal, it goes back to a coin toss, after that it's sudden death no matter who wins the coin toss?

RICH McKAY: If one team kicks a field goal, the other team responds and kicks a field goal, you're into pure sudden death. There's no coin toss, there's nothing. You continue from that point.

In other words, if team A kicks off, team B drives down and kicks a field goal, team B kicks off to team A. If team A kicks a field goal, then team B gets the ball, and at that point it's pure sudden death.

Q. And just one other question on the defenseless receiver. Can you talk about what the differences will be if your proposal passes.

RICH McKAY: The difference would be that currently the protection provided for the defenseless receiver ends when the receiver has completed the catch, meaning possession of the ball with two feet on the ground. And we would propose language that would say that if a receiver has completed the catch and has not had time to protect himself, a defensive player is prohibited from launching into him in a way that causes the defensive player's helmet, facemask, shoulder or forearm to forcibly strike the receiver's head. We're trying to expand the protection a period of time because we've seen tape where people literally have caught the ball and had no opportunity to avoid and to protect themselves in any way. It's that moment in time where we just think the receiver has not yet become a runner.

GREG AIELLO: They can be tackled; they just can't be tackled in a certain way at that point?

RICH McKAY: That's correct. The video will show you many instances in which the tackles are very good, separate the ball, do everything that they're taught to do, and don't violate the rules.

Q. Rich, to go back to overtime. Would this be a one year sort of experiment and you would revisit it after 2010 with the potential to expand it to the regular season or this is going to be the rule here on in if it passes?

RICH McKAY: We have not proposed it as one year only. We have proposed it for the postseason only. So what may happen from that, I don't know. First of all, we'd have to see if we can get the votes to pass it. Secondly, you would have to determine what people thought about the system going forward, when they would like to consider it at some point for the regular season.

Q. Rich, I wanted to double check with you on those statistics. You said 59.8% of the time the team that wins the toss wins the game from '94 to 2009. Could you go again over what the previous time period stat was on that? Also, if the first possession field goal winner is 26.2%, what was the prior? How do you account for 26.2% equaling as big a swing and change as you said you had?

RICH McKAY: Okay. Let me give you the stats. These stats are from '74, which is when overtime came into being, to '93. The team winning the coin toss won the game 46.8% of the time. The team losing the toss won the game in that same time period 46.8% of the time. Dead equal.

From '94 to 2009, the team winning the toss now wins 59.8% of the time over that period of time. The team losing the toss wins the game 38.5% of the time.

On field goals, the team that wins the coin toss and wins the first possession by a field goal from '74 to '93 was 17.9%. It has now gone up to 26.2%.

How do we account for the dramatic swing? Part of the reason is the accuracy of the kickers and the ability to kick the longer field goal. The other part is field position. Even though they may not score on their first drive, they're able to obviously affect field position in a way where they're able to gain an advantage and win the game. That would be our thought.

Q. Do you have data on the field possession?

RICH McKAY: We do have data on the field possession. But we only have data on field possession going back to 1990. We're still working on data from '74. So it's hard for me to tell you.

Was there a change in '94? Yes. I mean, for instance in 1993 the average drive start was at 24 yard line. In 1994, that's the year, kind of the demarcation line I'm using, the average drive start was on the 29.3. That's gone down now and kind of bounced around from 26 to 28 to 29. It's moved around a lot, but never gone back to 24.

Q. Why do you think that '93, '94 is where the dividing line is?

RICH McKAY: That's the year we moved the kickoff. That seems to be where you see the numbers begin to really change.

Q. Rich, when you kind of summarize the defenseless hits, all those different things, when you go into the meeting, what are the three, four or five major areas of player safety you're looking at? Obviously you had the success last year with the wedge, things on the offensive line. Where are you overall as far as trying to protect a lot of these things? You can only move certain places in certain years?

RICH McKAY: That's a good point. Last year to the elimination of the three or four man wedge, at first we had some resistance. Then I thought the coaches kind of adopted it. Watching tape, we really liked the effect that it had and the fact it eliminated some situations that we thought were troubling.

Our numbers, meaning our overall injury numbers, don't indicate that they're up. They're not up. They're certainly within the traditional numbers and in some ways they are down.

There is one thing I want to emphasize. It's not that player safety is being brought up because of the number, it's being brought up because we think it's important and we should always look for ways to make the game safer when we can.

In this instance, we were looking at hits that occur in the open field, and hits that occur to players that really do not have an opportunity to defend themselves. We looked at in line play and felt like that was pretty good. We didn't see a lot of instances in which there were situations created by rules or tactics that created a dangerous situation.

So we looked more at the open field and more at the defenseless player and felt like in those areas we can get a little more consistent in the rules, we can be a little broader in the rules and we can try to provide a little more protection.

Q. Is there another area, too, as time goes on you'd like to get into more?

RICH McKAY: I still think that in the kickoff in overtime, the wedge still creates a situation where you have guys running a long ways downfield and there are definitely collisions that occur that maybe potentially you could talk about downstream. It is probably too early to propose that now. We didn't really see the need on tape. I think that area is one we'll probably still look at.

We'll always look at in line play to make sure we're not putting the defensive players at any type of disadvantage they don't need to be at.

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