BREAKING THE TIE

The NFL will hold its Annual Meetings in Orlando, Fla., next week, with a potential change to the league's post-season overtime format expected to be a major issue.

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Overtime Policy Expected to Be Major Issue at NFL Annual Meetings

INDIANAPOLIS – As Rich McKay sees it, the time to change NFL overtime may be right.

And he said there are statistics that make the point.

McKay, the president of the Atlanta Falcons, is the co-chairman of the NFL's Competition Committee, a group that is expected to recommend to NFL owners the first change to the league's post-season overtime policy in nearly four decades.

The owners' decision on overtime policy is expected to be one of the major issues at the NFL Annual Meetings, which will be held Sunday through Wednesday in Orlando, Fla.

The reason for the recommendation, McKay said, is fairly simple:

Whereas for nearly two decades the NFL's current "sudden-death" format of deciding games tied at the end of regulation created a balance in terms of whether the team receiving or kicking off to start overtime won the game, that is no longer the case.

That, McKay said, caused the committee to search for a solution.

"Statistically, it's clear there has been a change," McKay said this week. "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 (the current system) works pretty well, it's exciting, and there's an opunity for less plays, and that is an important product that's needed in overtime."

Essentially, the committee's proposal is as follows:

• That if the team with possession first does not score a touchdown, the other team will get possession with a chance to tie or win.

• That if the team with possession first scores a touchdown, that team would win the game.

• That if the team with possession first scores a field goal, and the other the team scores a field goal, then the game would go into the traditional sudden-death format.

"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," McKay said.

McKay said the reasons are two-fold.

One is that whereas from before 1994, there was essentially a 46 percent-46 percent ratio of kicking and receiving team winning overtime games, the league's moving kickoffs to the 30-yard line and a drastic improvement of field-goal kickers has changed that dynamic.

From 1994 – when the NFL moved kickoffs to the 30 – to last season, receiving teams won overtime games 59.8 percent of the time compared to the kicking team winning 38.5 percent.

"When sudden death was put in in 1974, it clearly worked very well," McKay said. "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. The pros of the switch is it tries to re-balance the advantage that has been gained since '94 based on field-goal accuracy being greatly improved, field position being improved."

Because of the those two factors, McKay said too often a receiving team with a good return would be in a position to win with one good pass and a long field goal.

"In our mind that probably wouldn't have happened prior to '93 as much," McKay said. "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 percent advantage, for the team winning the toss."

McKay said the reason for this proposal as opposed to moving the kickoff back is the latter option not only likely wouldn't have solved the discrepancy, but likely would have met resistance.

"We proposed that a few years ago, but it did not prevail," McKay said. "The reasoning about that was, No. 1, 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.

"No. 2, 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."

McKay, who said he has no feel for the proposal's chances, said past proposals have met with various resistance. He said a proposal to ensure each team had two possessions received perhaps 18 votes, while the proposal to move kickoffs received less support.

"In the past, people have been quick to say that our system works very well and why would we change it," McKay said. "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."

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