The 2003 NFL Annual Meeting will kick off on Sunday in Phoenix, Ariz., and there will be plenty for league owners and executives to discuss throughout the three-day session.
With such hot topics as overtime procedures, playoff expansion, minority hiring, adjusting the coaches challenge system and the effects of the war with Iraq on the NFL's international endeavors, the three-day meeting could have significant influence over the product that takes the field in 2003.
With all these factors in mind, NFL Executive Vice President of Communications & Public Affairs Joe Browne, Vice President of Public Relations Greg Aiello and co-chairman of the NFL Competition Committee Rich McKay, took part in a national conference call earlier this week to discuss some of the issues that will be looked at during the upcoming meetings.
One of the issues that is most likely to be addressed and one that could bring about instant rule changes is the overtime system. Many fans, media members and teams themselves have felt that in recent years too much of an advantage goes to the team that wins the coin toss in overtime and subsequently takes first possession.
Last season 25 games went into overtime. Of those 25 games, 15 (60 percent) were won by the team that won the coin toss and nine (36 percent) won the game on the first possession of overtime. Improvements in the kicking game have given teams a much better shot at taking advantage of the initial overtime possession as kickers connect on longer, game-winning kicks on a much more regular basis.
With those numbers in hand, owners will look at a proposal from the Kansas City Chiefs that would call for teams to receive at least one possession in overtime. McKay said that while there were a number of ideas brought forward, the two-possession idea is the one that will be considered.
"First and foremost I think we looked at I don't know how many different proposals from fans, from the media," McKay said. "We saw some very interesting ones, to say the least. We did come to the conclusion, I think unanimously within the committee, that the only one that really is worthy of consideration, if we're going to make a change, is the two-possession format. The committee itself remains split on that, and it will be interesting to see how that vote comes out.
"I couldn't give you a prediction on whether it will pass or not. I know as a committee we felt like it needed to be discussed, it needed to be discussed on the floor. I'm sure it will be debated. We'll have a vote."
McKay went on to say he believes the vote could be extremely close and questioned whether the proposal has enough support this quickly.
"It's going to be close," McKay said. "The history of our league tells us that rules that have been in place this long, it takes two to three years before they get changed. They don't tend to happen the first year that something's voted upon."
The other major issue that will be debated is one that is directly related to the Patriots. Patriots owner Robert Kraft spoke out openly earlier this offseason in his belief that the playoffs should be expanded, and a proposal from both the Patriots and Chiefs on that expansion will be discussed. The proposal calls for one additional wild card to be added in each conference to bring the total of playoff teams from 12 to 14. Under the proposal only the top seed in each conference would receive a bye for the first week of playoff action.
According to McKay the expanded playoff idea is one the league has been considering back to the days of expansion from 28 to 30 teams and to 32 teams.
"We discussed this very proposal probably two years ago at the same time that we were discussing the reformation of the divisions, going to eight divisions of four," McKay said. "The feeling of the committee at that time, I think the feeling of the membership at that time, was that we would wait a couple years, probably two at the minimum, into the new divisional format before we would try to deal with the issues of playoffs, expansion or reseeding or any of those issues.
"I think the committee remains in the same position as it was then. This is a proposal that's on the table, though, so there will be a vote, and the membership is going to eventually say yea or nay. I say from the committee's perspective, we look at it the same way we did when they went into this eight division of four: Let's give it two years, see if there are inequities in this system, see if it's appropriate to expand the playoffs."
Other notable issues that will be discussed next week as well will include future Super Bowl sites, stadium/team issues in San Diego and Los Angeles and other off-the-field type discussions.
Belichick on the road
Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick was in attendance at a scouting session for BYU football players on Wednesday, according to The Daily Herald in Utah. Belichick reportedly showed some interest in 6-4, 320-pound Cougar offensive lineman Ben Archibald at the workout. Archibald is recovering from an injury last preseason that shattered two bones in his left leg and required a 40-centimeter titanium rod be installed in his fibula for support. He was not invited to the NFL Combine, but used the Wednesday showing to help clear up some of the questions about his health.
"He said he's interested in me," Archibald told The Daily Herald of his conversation with Belichick. "They want me to go out and get tested by their doctor."
New option at fullback
A new option hit the free agent market at fullback on Thursday as the Buffalo Bills released 13-year NFL veteran Larry Centers. The 6-foot, 225-pound Centers caught 43 passes for 388 yards last season in Buffalo. He is one of the best pass-catching fullbacks in the history of the NFL and is a player that Belichick has expressed a high level of respect for in the past. Calls to Centers agent, David Dunn, went unanswered Friday afternoon.