NFL coaches, players' union not happy with how overtime rule change came about

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 25, 2010; D05

ORLANDO -- The NFL defended its freshly approved overtime system Wednesday, with some coaches complaining about the voting process and the players' union contending that it should have a say about the new format that was ratified for postseason games.

The vote by owners to approve the new system was taken Tuesday afternoon, a day sooner than originally expected, with the coaches not present.

"That [vote] kind of got slipped in the back door," New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton said Wednesday. "That's a taste you have in your mouth that's bitter. I'm against it. I hate the policy."

Many coaches were on a golf outing when the owners voted, 28 to 4, to ratify the overtime proposal made by the NFL's competition committee. The measure needed 24 votes to be enacted.

"The system we have, with the number of votes required, is healthy," Payton said. "It just caught a lot of people off guard, the way it was done, which tells me there was not a lot of confidence it would get done if it was done on the normal itinerary."

Minnesota Vikings Coach Brad Childress said: "With the seven or eight guys I was playing golf with [Tuesday], I would characterize it as surprised, to get e-mails and texts saying the vote was done. We thought we would come back to talk about it more [Wednesday]. The word transparency comes to mind."

The Vikings were among the teams to vote against the measure, even though they lost last season's NFC title game to the Saints on a field goal on the opening possession of overtime. The new system eliminates the possibility of a team winning in such a fashion.

"I didn't think it would go in a different direction, necessarily," Childress said. "It's just the process, that's all."

The Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills also voted against the proposal. Not all coaches expressed objections to the voting process. "I think there was a lot of discussion about the rule," Arizona Cardinals Coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "I knew there was a consensus that this was something that was good for the game. I don't have an issue with it."

Tennessee Titans Coach Jeff Fisher, the co-chairman of the competition committee, defended the voting process. "We discussed it Sunday evening," Fisher said. "We discussed it Monday morning. Coaches had plenty of opportunities to voice their opinions. . . . The bottom line is, our owners are going to vote. . . . It's their call."

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell expressed similar sentiments.

"We had a full discussion [Tuesday] morning with the coaches in the room, and the owners heard it," Goodell said. "It's no secret that certain owners may have a different view from their coaches. This might not come as a news flash, but the owners have the vote."

Goodell said that he and many owners had been told by fans that they believed the existing overtime rule was unfair.

"I think it will be received very well by the fans," Goodell said.

George Atallah, the union's assistant executive director of external affairs, said the union believes that the new overtime system must be collectively bargained with the players. Atallah declined further comment.

The league disputed the union's contention. "The rule change does not have to be collectively bargained," Goodell said.

According to the league, its obligation to the union under the collective bargaining agreement was to discuss the issue with the players and get their input. "We did that," Goodell said. "At the end of the day, just like with the coaches, the ownership has to make the decision."

The players expressed the view that the overtime system should not be changed when players and union representatives met with members of the competition committee last month at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

Under the new system, the team that gets the ball first in overtime can win the game with a touchdown. If that team gets a field goal, the other club gets a possession and can win the game with a touchdown or tie it with a field goal. If it gets a tying field goal, the game is sudden death from there. If neither team scores on its first possession of overtime, the game proceeds on a sudden-death basis.

The owners approved the new overtime format for postseason games only, but left open the possibility of using the new system in regular season games at some point. That issue is to be revisited at an owners' meeting scheduled for May in Dallas, or next year.

Regular season games, at least for now, will continue to be played under the current overtime system, in which a coin flip determines which team gets possession first and the first team to score wins.

Goodell also said Wednesday that all of the games on the final weekend of the NFL's regular season, and many on the second-to-last weekend, will be between teams in the same division. NFL officials have been looking for ways to add interest to late-season games with no playoff implications for at least one of the teams involved. Goodell said this measure won't completely solve that problem but might begin to address it.

Owners approved all but one of the rule changes proposed by the competition committee. The proposal that was rejected would have enabled an instant replay review to put time back on the clock at the end of a game if it was determined that a timing error occurred. The proposals that were approved by the owners included several safety-related measures, one extending the protections given to players deemed to be in defenseless positions during games and another that ends any play immediately when a ballcarrier loses his helmet.

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