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NFL owners make the right call on overtime, even if coaches disagree

ORLANDO -- In the end, logic and the weight of numbers won out. A modified sudden-death overtime proposal passed for the 2010 NFL playoffs by a surprisingly easy 28-4 vote by league owners Tuesday afternoon, backed by raw data and by a overtime reform convert, commissioner Roger Goodell.

There's no question, though, that a cadre of coaches who have been against the modified sudden death rule won't be pleased with the outcome. Many were on a golf outing at the annual NFL meetings here, and early reports say several were fuming about the change.

Do not underestimate Goodell's role in the vote to modify overtime permanently for NFL playoff games. It was clear to ownership late Tuesday afternoon that the commissioner favored the new system, and Indianapolis GM and Competition Committee member Bill Polian credited Goodell for crystallizing positive opinion by going club-to-club around the meeting room during the discussion, listening to every team's opinion of the new system

"There is no question Roger took a strong leadership position on this and thought it was good for the game,'' said another voice present in the room for the discussion.

Judging by the stunning ease of victory, and the fact the rules-making Competition Committee will get to present more information to owners at the league's May meetings in Dallas, it's possible the rule could be in place for the 2010 regular season as well. But Competition Committee co-chair Rich McKay of the Falcons sounded dubious late this afternoon that anything but the playoffs would be covered by the new overtime rule.

The rule will ensure both teams will get at least one possession in overtime, unless one team scores a touchdown on the first possession of overtime, or unless the defense scores a safety on the first possession of overtime. No touchdown means the game goes to sudden death on the second possession. There would still be a coin flip to start overtime, and the winner would still choose whether to take the ball or play defense on the first possession of the extra period, though most club people interviewed here this week believe the coin flip winner will always take the ball to start overtime.

REACT: Share your opinion of the NFL's overtime rule changes

Before you start to think some revolution took place at the posh Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes Resort in the shadow of Disney World, know this: Only 1.2 overtime games per postseason have been played in the past 15 years. So you're going to have the learn the rules in the paragraph above only once next year, if form holds.

But it's still a significant rules shift. With this change, Sean Payton would have had to decide whether to play for a 40-yard Garrett Hartley field goal in overtime of the NFC Championship Game in New Orleans in January -- or stay aggressive and try to score a touchdown to end the game. If he chose the Hartley field goal, the gimpy Brett Favre would have had one more potentially heroic chance to win the game with a touchdown drive on the next possession (or, conversely, a chance to be a goat with an interception).

It's certain some coaches won't be as enthusiastic for the rule as the owners were. Several coaches were adamantly against the proposal because they felt it added a major level of decision-making to the game, like whether to throw a challenge flag for replay review. The new level will be if you've got a strong defense, would you want to kick the ball to start overtime, theorizing you could make the opponent go three-and-out, get the ball in great field position, then drive for a winning field goal? FoxSports.com's Jay Glazer confirmed this on Twitter an hour after the vote, saying some coaches believed the vote would be taken Wednesday and were angry the vote was Tuesday afternoon, while they were at a coaches' golf outing. One general manager, commenting on the supposed opposition from the coaches: "Yeah, but there wasn't a coach in the room.''

So how did this happen, and how did reform-proponent McKay, who privately was dubious as late as Sunday that the measure would pass this year, sway enough of the negative teams to come over to the side of re-writing the 36-year-old staple of the game?

"The more we explained the problem,'' McKay said, "the more we crystallized the stats. And the initial pushback'' vanished as the evidence for reform wafted over the meeting room.

The stats that mattered to the owners and key club decision-makers:

• The coin-flip was playing too big a role in who won and lost, as was field-goal efficiency. Between 1974 and 1993, 46.8 percent of overtime games were won by the coin-flip winner. Since 1994, it's 59.8 percent. It used to be that less than half the OT games were won by the lucky team to start the fifth quarter; now it's three out of five.

• In the first five years of overtime play, from 1974 to '78, NFL kickers hit 61 percent of their field-goal attempts. In the last five years, field-goal efficiency is 82 percent. Kickers who once made three out of five are now making four out of five, and that weighed heavily on the owners.

• Coin-flip winners won 46.8 percent of overtime games from 1973 to '93, when the kickoff line was moved from the 35- to 30- to encourage more returns. In the last 16 seasons, coin-clip winners have won 59.8 percent of the games.

We probably should have gotten an idea that the commissioner would play a strong role in the debate when he stressed innovation and not being afraid of change at his opening press conference. He mixed up his words when he said: "Don't let better get in the way of perfect.'' He meant: "Don't let perfect get in the way of better.'' That's a metaphor for this change. Everyone in the NFL crowd has a better idea for overtime, but -- and it's now certain Goodell backed this -- if the proposal we have on the table is better than the rule currently in place, vote for it even if it's not perfect.

That's what happened here. Even if some absentee coaches felt the move was like an old end-around, it's the owners' call -- and the owners spoke decisively.

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