TIME FOR CHANGE

The NFL owners next week are expected to vote on a change in how the NFL Draft order is determined. Colts President Bill Polian, a member of the NFL's Competition Committee, said he expects the rule will be changed.

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Rule Change Altering Draft Order Likely at NFL Owners Meetings, Polian Says
INDIANAPOLIS – As Bill Polian sees it, the time is right.

Polian, now in his 12th season as the Colts' president, said perhaps there was a time when the current system for determining the draft order of NFL playoff teams made sense, when the order for such teams logically was based on regular-season record. No more.

Which is why Polian said the NFL Competition Committee is recommending a change.

The Competition Committee, of which Polian is a member, is recommending the draft order of playoff teams be determined based on their playoff result from the year before. All teams except the previous season's Super Bowl teams currently select based on the teams' record the previous regular season.

NFL owners are expected to vote on the matter next week at the NFL Owners Meetings in Dana Point, Calif. The meetings begin Monday and likely will end Wednesday.

Polian said the recommendation likely will be accepted.

"I don't see why not," Polian said, adding that the rule would go in place in 2010. "You never know, but it seems fair to everyone on the committee."

While the NFL owners meet several times each year, next week's meeting is annually the most high-profile, and it's where rules changes are typically implemented.

Rich McKay, the Atlanta Falcons' president and a Competition Committee co-chair, said this week the NFL's overtime rule likely won't be a major issue. Polian said Thursday he wasn't surprised at that development, and said the most surprising thing about the issue was the players were so adamantly in favor of keeping the league's current sudden-death format.

Several other rules changes are expected to be voted upon, and while McKay said this week none are what he considers major changes, they do involve what Polian and McKay each said are imant safety precautions. The new proposals:

• Eliminate bunch formation on kickoffs.

• Eliminate the three- or four-man wedge on kickoff returns.

• Eliminate/penalize helmet-to-helmet contact that occurs in a blindside block.

• Mandate there be no initial contact by a defender to the head area of a defenseless receiver.

"I think we've addressed the safety issues to a large degree with the elimination of the wedge," Polian said.

McKay said among several other recommendations by the committee is to eliminate the automatic re-kick on a second onside kick.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello also said the NFL expects to make several announcements, including the Kickoff Weekend schedule: the Thursday Night game and other nationally-televised games that weekend. The league also could announce other nationally-televised games later in the season, Aiello said.

Also, the NFL also will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American Football League, Aiello said. The AFL, founded in 1960, merged with the NFL in 1970.

Aiello said the owners also will discuss the potential for a restructured season. The concept, Aiello said, has quite a bit of support, "especially among fans." NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Ray Anderson said the restructuring could involve adding a 17th regular-season game.

McKay also said a proposal to seed the playoffs based on regular-season records rather than giving division champions an automatic first-round bye and home playoff game will be discussed.

"I think Jacksonville will put it forward, but we don't feel there's any real groundswell for it, and there's a bare majority in the committee," Polian said.

Polian said while that proposal failed a year ago, the proposal to alter the means by which the NFL decides draft order stems from the same concern – that under the current NFL alignment of four-team divisions, inequity can be created because of teams winning divisions with records inferior to the records of teams qualifying for the postseason as wild-card entrants.

The current alignment was put in place in 2002.

"Let's go back," Polian said. "When the scheduling formula was put in, the committee worried that we would get some inequities with the division winner getting a home (playoff) game. (Then-NFL Commissioner Paul) Tagliabue said at the time, 'Let's take a look at it two or three years from now and see what happens.' We did, and the clear preference of the vast majority of owners was to stay with that system.

"That being said, we now have what amounts to a tournament. Therefore, ask yourself the question, 'Well, if this is a tournament, once people are in, anybody can win. Why should you then base the draft order on the regular season?' You ought to just be consistent and say, 'OK, we'll base the draft order from now on on how the 12 playoff teams finish. You have two different barometers.'

"You'll draft in the order you'll win out."

Under the current system, the only teams whose draft order is not based on the regular season just past are the two teams that played in the previous Super Bowl. No matter the record, those two teams select 31st and 32nd.

"That's the other reason to extend it," Polian said of the proposal. "Super Bowl teams are affected by where they finish but no one else is. That's illogical."

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