When NFL owners last week tabled a vote to have the new overtime rule include the regular season as well as the playoffs, commissioner Roger Goodell said they ... and he ... wanted to hear more from the players. That sounds reasonable, so I cut in line to consult them -- and what I heard was unanimous.
They want the league to make the rule uniform, which means they want it to include the regular season -- and, pardon me, but that seems only logical.
When the NFL first passed the new rule in March, it said it was not an experiment, and that the idea was here to stay. OK, fine. But if you think enough of a new rule to make it permanent, why not make it all inclusive? I mean, if it's good enough for the playoffs when the stakes are high, why isn't it good enough for the regular season?
|San Diego's Legedu Naanee, like many others, wonders why there will be different rules only for the playoffs. (US Presswire)|
"If it's good enough for the playoffs," said New York Jets guard Brandon Moore, "you might as well try it during the regular season."
Makes sense to me. It should have made sense to NFL owners, too, who pushed through the new rule in March but now balk at making it cover more than the postseason, which means we'll have sudden-death overtime this year, just like always, only changing it when the playoffs begin.
Now, someone please explain to me why that's a good idea. No, better still, someone please explain it to players. As Moore pointed out, the Jets go over rule changes every summer at training camp so they're familiar with them when the season begins. Only how do you spend part of July discussing, practicing and understanding a rule change that doesn't take effect until January?
"You don't want to get to the point where you get to the playoffs and you have to work on these situations," said Jets tackle Damien Woody. "So just make it uniform for the playoffs and the regular season. That is something we can work on in the offseason and training camp so it won't be a problem for the regular season. As players, we want things uniform; we want them the same. So it makes more sense to make it the regular season and the playoffs."
He is not alone there. It makes more sense to a lot of guys.
"If they change the rule," said San Diego wide receiver Legedu Naanee, "you would think they would do it for the regular season, too, so you're not jumping into a situation where it can be season-ending. If you go into the playoffs I'm sure coaches will harp on it then. I think the first year, if it happens early, teams will learn from it for the next round, or teams that have byes will learn from it."
But they shouldn't have to learn about it then. They should have to learn about it now. Owners felt the rule change was a good one in March, so they passed it by a 28-4 vote. But if they thought the new rule made the playoffs better or more equitable or more competitive, why didn't they extend it to include the regular season? I mean, an overwhelming majority like the idea, right? So why do they like it only for one month? What happened to the rest of the season?
"You're saying the playoffs are more important than the regular season," said Jets linebacker Bart Scott, "but how do you get to the playoffs? Through the regular season."
"More than anything," said San Diego Chargers defensive end Jacques Cesaire, "I think it's something for the coaches [to worry about]. They will have to game-plan it a little bit differently. But I'm old school. I like the old way."
I'm with Cesaire. I like sudden-death overtime, too, and I don't give a rip if the team that loses the coin toss loses the game without an offensive possession. Too bad. That's the risk you assume when you can't win in four quarters, and it's the element that gives OT the suspense I love.
The NFL, however, was concerned that the team winning the toss won games 60 percent of the time and, therefore, held an unfair advantage. OK, let's assume you agree. Then correct the problem by moving the kickoff from the 30 to the 35, or from where it was kicked from 1974-1993. During that time the team that won the coin toss won the game 46.8 percent of the time, while the team that lost it won 46.8 percent of the time.
From where I sit that looks as if neither side had an advantage, and isn't that what the NFL is trying to achieve?
I thought so, too, but the league thought it wise not to move the yard line but to change the rules instead ... only to change them for the playoffs when the stakes are higher, the coaches are tighter and the weeks of practice can be shorter. It said it wanted to level the playing field, but it already had evidence to accomplish that through a minimum of change.
"Why change anything?" said Scott. "It looks like they're trying to find opportunities to extend the game for more drama. But what could be more dramatic than you get one chance?
"I think most of the people that complain about not being able to stop an offense are teams without a defense. To tell you the truth, when it comes to overtime I wouldn't be surprised if my team wouldn't prefer to kick off. I mean, you can gain yards that way, too. Just because they get the ball doesn't mean they score."
Exhibit A: Last season's playoff opener between Arizona and Green Bay. The Packers won the coin toss, took three snaps, fumbled away the ball and lost the game. But the league was sensitive to what might have been in Super Bowl XLIV when the Indianapolis Colts seemed on the verge of tying the game late in the fourth quarter. Then the Saints' Tracy Porter came to the rescue, intercepting a Peyton Manning pass, returning it for a touchdown and sparing NFL officials an explanation as to why it's a good idea to have a team lose a Super Bowl without having a possession in overtime.
"What is greater than sudden death?" said Scott. "Each team has a chance to get points. I've been on both ends of it. In fact, I lost a game this year in overtime. What happened is we stopped them, they stopped us, we stopped them, they stopped us, they kicked a field goal. So it can go both ways."
Apparently, so can the NFL. It's sudden-death OT from September through December. But once the playoffs start it's a new ballgame, with a rule that is so good that it's good enough only for the playoffs.
"I don't know why they pushed it," said Moore.
Neither do I. But I know what they can do with it. So do players. It's time NFL owners start paying attention.