ORLANDO, Fla. — As the NFL owners gather here at the Ritz-Carlton for the launch of the annual league meetings, this posh venue is the backdrop for significant labor strife between management and the players’ union.
The approaching storm clouds of a potential lockout in 2011 are looming, and negotiating strategies figure to dominate owners’ conversation over the next three days.
However, that’s not the only business that’s being conducted.
The NFL competition committee, of which Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is a member, is recommending a proposal to modify the overtime format that would apply strictly to the playoffs.
Instead of the sudden-death system that’s currently in place where the first score decides the outcome, a playoff game wouldn’t conclude unless the team that wins the coin toss scores a touchdown on the first possession.
A field goal scored on the first series would allow the team that lost the toss to get a subsequent possession and a chance to tie the game. A failure to score on that second possession would end the game.
If both teams connect on field goals, then it goes back to the existing sudden-death rules.
And if the team that wins the coin toss doesn’t score on the initial possession, then the overtime would be conducted the way it always has with the other team able to win the game on a field goal.
What’s the impetus for this possible change that will be determined on Wednesday and requires 24 out of 32 votes to pass?
The Minnesota Vikings’ overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints in the NFC title game has provided a lot of motivation.
The NFL brass is concerned about the possibility of a Super Bowl being decided by a field goal.
"I would say this is something that’s been on our radar for a number of years and been talked about a lot," said Atlanta Falcons team president Rich McKay, the co-chair of the competition committee, during a national conference call. "In the last four or five years, we have not proposed anything because we thought if there weren’t enough votes, we should not propose it. This year, the statistics are so compelling we need to get the discussion going."
Plus, winning the coin toss has traditionally determined the winner.
During all overtime regular-season games from 1975 to 1994, the team that won the coin toss wins the game 46.8 percent of the time.
Between 1994 and 2009, the coin toss winner wins the game 59.8 percent of the time with the coin toss loser winning just 38.5 percent of the time.
There have only been four regular-season ties, 1.6 percent, from 1994 to 2009.
"When sudden death was put in, in 1974, it clearly worked very well," McKay said. "It was a good system. No. 1, it had excitement. No. 2, it broke ties. Changes occurred over time. Now the numbers have changed pretty dramatically."
With the improvement of field goal accuracy over the years, the game has been determined by a field goal 26.2 percent of the time. That’s up 17.9 percent over the past 15 years.
"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 a 20 percent advantage, for the team winning the toss," McKay said. "Now, if you get a good return, you get one completed pass or pass interference and a 52-yard field goal, and the game’s over. In our mind, that wouldn’t have happened as much prior to ’94."
It’s unclear if there’s enough momentum being generated to pass the vote, but the competition committee seems to have some support around the league.
Nonetheless, NFL owners are traditionally resistant to change.
"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," McKay said. "Those on the other side will tell you overtime 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.
"I can’t say that I have any sense for the votes. 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."
Meanwhile, the competition committee is also proposing several rule changes focusing on player safety.
The committee wants to expand the protection given to a defenseless receiver after a catch.
Right now, the receiver’s protection ends as soon as the receiver gains possession and has two feet on the ground.
Now, the committee wants to prevent a defensive player from launching into the receiver’s head while leading with his helmet, facemask, shoulder or forearm.
"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," McKay said.
"’That’s always been a pretty tight line for us. We’re going to try to expand that line and give him protection until he’s had an opportunity to defend himself from hits to the head by defenders launching upwards towards his head."
The committee is also recommending a proposal to protect long snappers on field goal attempts where no one would be allowed to line up over the snapper.
And it’s proposing rule changes that would blow the play dead if a ball-carrier loses his helmet during a run, having dead-ball fouls carry over to the second half or to overtime.
While the NFL will vote on overtime and other potential rule changes, the labor issue is the most important topic up for discussion.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to discuss the state of negotiations regarding a new collective bargaining agreement.
The NFL wants to cut down the percentage of money allotted toward player salaries, a figure that’s nearly 60 percent currently.
And the NFL Players Association, under the leadership of new executive director DeMaurice Smith, has called for owners to open up their books and insists that the NFL’s finances aren’t an issue since franchise sale prices and salaries are still tilting upward.
The NFL has refused to do so.
There’s a major divide between the two sides, so no deal is in the offing as the NFL operates this year without a salary cap.
And there figures to be a lot of rhetoric this week concerning this big-picture issue.
NOTES: The NFL will announce some of its featured games, including the anticipated season opener between the Vikings and Saints, as well as its Thanksgiving day schedule. The Ravens have been mentioned as a potential link to the New York Jets’ home Thanksgiving game. … Compensatory draft selections will be announced at the meetings. Those picks will fall between the end of the third round and the end of the seventh round. …