- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

They'll talk about adding a playoff team in each conference and giving teams at least one possession in overtime. They'll discuss minority hiring, putting a franchise back in Los Angeles and tinkering with the coaches' challenges in the instant replay system. They'll discuss the potential impact of a war in Iraq on NFL Europe, which opens play in 16 days.

About the only issue not on the agenda when NFL owners meet in Phoenix for four days beginning Sunday is the idea of a Super Bowl in Washington or New York. That discussion has been put off at least until the May meetings in Philadelphia.

The hottest topics are expansion of the playoffs and the change to overtime, but competition committee co-chairman Rich McKay doesn't believe either proposal will pass.

McKay, who also is general manager of the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said the current format with four division champions and two wild cards per conference "worked exactly as it should work" in its debut last season. He said the committee is inclined to wait, as planned, at least until next spring to deal with expansion from 12 to 14 teams or with re-seeding to avoid a situation like last year's, when Indianapolis played at New York despite having a better record because the Jets were a division champion.

It's no coincidence that the expansion of the playoffs is being proposed by New England (as well as the Kansas City) considering that the Patriots would have been the AFC's seventh postseason team last year. The 1985 Patriots are the only team in the 25 years of the 16-game schedule to reach the Super Bowl after not playing a home playoff game.

McKay said the proposed change to overtime, which the committee unanimously voted to send to the membership for a vote, was made by the Chiefs. It would give each team at least one possession in overtime. If the game remained tied, it would revert to the current sudden death setup until the completion of a 15-minute fifth quarter.

While the committee is pleased there have been just seven ties since overtime began in 1974, McKay said "it's problematic" that 40 percent of games going into overtime in the past eight years were won on the opening possession. Also, 59 percent of teams winning the coin flip went on to victory.

McKay said although much of the inequality stems from greater field goal accuracy, there is no thought to moving overtime kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35 or 40 to make teams drive farther to get into scoring range.

"Rules that have been in place this long [usually] take two to three years before they get changed," McKay said. "The system has worked pretty well, but there's a concern that [having] the first possession is becoming too much of an advantage, and that needs to be discussed."

It's possible the overtime proposal could be implemented on a one-year, experimental basis. But because the replay system well may be adjusted after its current term expires next February, McKay is doubtful that the owners will approve the Cleveland Browns' proposal to not count successful challenges against a coach's limit of two per game.

Jokingly admitting to bias because his Bucs won their first Super Bowl, McKay said last season was a good one on the field, which strengthened feeling against changing the rules. McKay noted that scoring was up from 40.4 points to 43.3 a game and the average of 4.96 touchdowns was the highest since 1987 quieting concern about the field goal/touchdown ratio.

McKay also noted that 49.2 percent of games were decided by seven or fewer points, the highest total since 1994.

Meanwhile, NFL spokesman Joe Browne said any sanctions against the Detroit Lions for their possible violation of the league's workplace diversity initiative in hiring coach Steve Mariucci last month could be announced next week. However, Browne said the league has "some breathing room" to further implement the new policy because the next hiring period won't occur until January.

As for Super Bowls, Browne said the league is leaning toward awarding the February 2007 game to a Florida city in all likelihood Miami because it hasn't been the site since 1999 compared to January 2001 in Tampa. Jacksonville plays host to Super Bowl XXXIX in February 2005. Washington remains a candidate for the 2008 game.

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