Overtime won't be hot topic at league meetings; player safety will

DANA POINT, Calif. -- Fans overwrought by the NFL's overtime system won't be getting any relief this year.

Overtime isn't likely to be discussed at the league meetings that began Sunday after the NFL competition committee came up with no proposals to change it. The players themselves support the current system -- coin flip and all -- so the owners will consider other issues: rules changes regarding player safety, the collective bargaining agreement with the players and the state of the economy.

Those aren't hot-button topics for most NFL fans, who saw 43 percent of overtime games won on the first possession by the team that won the coin toss in 2008.

Ray Anderson, the league's vice president of football operations, believes overtime and player safety are interconnected.

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"I was a bit surprised at how adamant the players were with not wanting to change the system," Anderson said. "They were pretty adamant an extended playing time would expose you to injury risk. If you can't win it in regulation, you take your chances in overtime."

With the NFL considering extending the regular season by one or two games once it reaches a new CBA with the union, the possibility of overtime stretching beyond one extra period -- yes, Donovan McNabb, there are ties after 15 minutes of OT -- does not appeal to the union.

That might disturb fans who wonder about the fairness of the current format, particularly when their team loses the coin toss to start overtime, then never sees the ball.

But as Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian said about his team's 23-17 loss at San Diego in a wild-card game that finished with exactly that scenario: "We had our chances to win the game and our chances to stop them."

Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, a longtime co-chairman of the competition committee, recognizes there has been an undertow for overtime change among certain constituencies.

"That has drawn a lot of attention from the media and is brought up a lot by our fans," McKay said. "Talking to the players union and advisory council, we have no proposal at this time. Overtime achieves the major goal in that it breaks ties. And it is extremely exciting."

One change that McKay suggested could make overtime more equitable would be moving the kickoff back 5 yards. When the NFL moved the kickoff back to the 30 several years ago, it had a definite effect on field position.

But with significant improvement in field goal kicking accuracy and distance, McKay isn't so sure such a move would work again. He also noted the average distance of successful overtime field goals last year was 37 yards, which means teams were able to move the ball well before sending in the kicker.

"I think everyone feels comfortable with the system," he said.

As for an eventual extension of the regular season, something commissioner Roger Goodell champions, it would not alter the 20-game format currently in use (16 regular-season games, four exhibitions). The league would eliminate one or two preseason matches to accommodate more "real" games.

The owners will be given information this week by the competition committee regarding competitive issues with a 17-game or 18-game regular season, but Anderson contemplates no action until a CBA is reached.

Goodell and new NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith met on Friday in New York in what was termed an introductory session. Serious negotiations could begin soon.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have proposed reseeding the playoffs so that a wild-card team with a superior record to a division winner will be at home in a first-round matchup between those teams. Last season, the Colts (12-4) played at the Chargers (8-8) and the Falcons (11-5) were at the Cardinals (9-7). Both home teams won.

"Last year, clearly the support was not there for it," McKay said. "I will be interested to hear what the membership has to say about that."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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