As expected, the NFL’s Competition Committee will propose at next week’s league meetings (which will be held not in Maui but at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando) a change to the overtime rules.
The new rule, as previously reported by many, will allow the team that receives the kickoff to start overtime to win the game only by scoring a touchdown. At that point, the game would end without the other team getting the ball — and without an extra point being attempted.
If the team that receives the kickoff scores a field goal, the other team would then get the ball. A field goal by the other team would then extend the game, making it truly sudden death. Failure to score at all would end the game, as would a touchdown by the team that kicked off to start overtime.
Competition Committee co-chair Rich McKay explained that the impetus for the change comes from the fact that, with the movement of the kickoff from the 35 to the 30 in 1994, the rate of victory via first-drive field goal increased from 17.9 percent (from 1974 to 1993) to 26.2 percent (from 1994 through 2009). He pointed out that the average field position for the team receiving the kickoff to start overtime moved from the 24-yard line in 1993 to the 29.3 in 1994. Thereafter, the average field position has bounced around from year to year, but it has never been as low as 24.
McKay said that a two-possession proposal previously had been made by the Competition Committee, but that it obtained only 18 votes. McKay added that there also was a prior attempt to move the kickoff point, presumably from the 30 back to the 35. It also failed.
The “modified sudden death” rule, as McKay called it, would apply to the playoffs only — and it would be a permanent change. This means that, if 24 votes are mustered next week to install the rule, 24 votes would be required in the future to erase it.
Though it remains to be seen whether the owners agree to the change, McKay said that, historically, players are fine with the current rule. But McKay said that formal union approval has not been sought, and apparently won’t be sought, if the proposal prevails. (This raises a potentially interesting labor law issue; does the extension of the game constitute the kind of change in working conditions that makes the proposal a mandatory subject for collective bargaining? We’ll ask the union for its position on this.)
It remains unclear whether the owners will approve the measure. McKay said he has no feel for whether 24 or more votes will be cast in favor of it. But he said that the Competition Committee believed it was the right time to propose the change — possibly due to the outcome of the NFC title game, which the Saints won on a first-drive field goal.
We strongly believe that the current system must change. Though we prefer a system that guarantees a possession for both teams even in the event of a touchdown, the proposed rule is far, far better than the current one.