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Owners vote for overtime rule changes for play-off matches

The new system eliminates the possibility of a team winning a post-season game with a field goal on the opening possession of overtime.

New rule changes could reduce the impact of kickers such as Kris Brown, centre, of Houston.
New rule changes could reduce the impact of kickers such as Kris Brown, centre, of Houston.

The NFL introduced new changes to its overtime format for post-season games on Tuesday in an attempt to reduce the impact of coin flips and increasingly accurate field-goal kickers. The new system eliminates the possibility of a team winning a post-season game with a field goal on the opening possession of overtime. The league's franchise owners voted 28-4 to ratify the change, which had been proposed by the NFL's rule-making competition committee.

"This idea, in our mind, did the right thing for football. We felt like from a fairness standpoint, this rule needed to be changed," said Rich McKay, the Atlanta Falcons president and the co-chairman of the competition committee. Under the new system, the team getting the ball first in overtime could win the game with a touchdown. If they score a field goal, the other side would have a chance to get possession and tie the game with a field goal or win it with a touchdown. If that team gets a tying field goal, the game would proceed on a sudden death basis. If neither team score on their first possession of overtime, the game would be sudden death from there.

Regular season games, at least for now, will continue to use the current overtime format, in which a coin flip determines who gets possession first and the first team to score wins. The owners will reconsider the measure, perhaps as early as May at a scheduled meeting in Dallas, Texas, and possibly could use the new system at some point for regular-season games as well. The Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals were the teams to vote against the proposal.

The vote came on the second day of the three-day annual league meeting, one day sooner than originally expected. Competition committee members said they proposed the new format because of a trend over the last 16 years in which the team twinning the overtime coin toss have won the game much more frequently, thanks in part to improved field goal accuracy. Since 1994, when kick-offs were moved back five yards, the team that won the overtime coin toss won the game 59.8 per cent of the time, while the team that lost the coin toss won the game only 38.5 per cent of the time.

"There were plenty of people, myself included, not inclined to be in favour of this," said Bill Polian, the Indianapolis Colts president. "But, once you went over the statistics, it was clear something needed to be done." It is believed the NFL Players' Association want the new system collectively bargained with the union, while it appears several owners voted for the move despite their coaches opposing it.

* With agencies