Far more swiftly than anyone predicted, including the competition committee that made the recommendation, the NFL changed its overtime rules for postseason games Tuesday. Starting with the 2010 season, if a team wins the OT coin toss and then kicks a field goal, the other team gets the ball. If the game becomes tied again after that next series, play will continue under the current sudden-death rules.
If the team winning the toss immediately scores a touchdown, however, the game is over.
Team owners voted 28-4 on Tuesday in favor of the proposal at the NFL meetings, with Minnesota, Buffalo, Cincinnati and Baltimore opposing the change.
"We knew it would be a hot-button issue when we got here," Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian said.
Its passage was helped by commissioner Roger Goodell's support, and by a spate of statistics indicating the coin toss had become too prominent in determining OT winners.
Since 1994, the team that won the overtime coin toss won the game 34 percent of the time on the first possession. Overall, the team that correctly called the coin toss won overtime games nearly 60 percent of the time in the last 15 years, or since kickoffs were moved back 5 yards to the 30.
Minnesota lost last season's NFL championship game in overtime to New Orleans. The Saints won the toss, drove downfield and kicked a field goal to win.
"I really believe the more you talk about the issue and see the stats and the change in our game, the more you see need for a change (in overtime)," said Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee. McKay and Polian, a member of the committee, cited the improvement in accuracy and distance for kickers as a major reason for the statistical differences. "Modified sudden death is an opportunity to make a pretty good rule ... even better. Statistically, it needed to change. It wasn't producing the 'fairest result."'
There was no consideration of ditching sudden-death for another OT system. And while the new rule applies only for postseason games, McKay said even that could change. Several owners expressed interest in further discussions at their May meetings in Dallas.
"Our thought is to take our time and study it a bit and make sure everyone understands the implications there would be for that," McKay said.
Neither McKay nor Polian believes the Vikings-Saints game had much of a role in the vote to modify the rule.
"That's interesting," McKay said. "One of the teams that voted against was in the game and, last I checked, I don't think they won."
McKay and Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, the other competition committee co-chairman, said coaches quickly began favoring the change once they learned the details. It became such an important issue that the owners' vote was taken one day earlier than expected.
One of those coaches, Jack Del Rio of Jacksonville, did not favor the alteration, but owner Wayne Weaver supported it.
"I think what you're seeing (at the end of games) is the proficiency of offenses and quarterbacks who take their team down, and whoever has the ball last wins the game," he said. "All you're doing is extending that to OT. I'm not sure that's a good thing."
But it's a done thing, which might annoy the players' union.
The NFLPA has said it believes any change in overtime needs to be collectively bargained. Of course, the contract between the league and players expires next March. While the competition committee briefly discussed potential OT changes with the union in February, it was not consulted this week.