There’s momentum to change the NFL’s overtime rule as owners prepare for annual meetings

There’s momentum to change the NFL’s overtime rule as owners prepare for annual meetings

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) runs the ball during the AFC Divisional Round playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs on January 23rd, 2022 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.
William Purnell | Icon Sportswire | Getty Images

NFL owners are prepping for another round of debates about the league’s overtime rules, which came under renewed scrutiny after one of the most exciting playoff games in history. There could be something in the works, too.

“I think there’s a lot of momentum to have a change,” Atlanta Falcons President and Chief Executive Rich McKay said Friday when discussing the overtime rule.

The NFL will hold its annual meetings in Palm Beach, Florida, this weekend through Wednesday. The gathering brings together owners, team presidents, coaches and league staff in one location to discuss gameplay operations and business.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will be peppered with inquiries around league media deals. And there could be minor renewals regarding assets that include radio rights and ticketing. NFL team owners will also debate amending Rule 16 – known as the overtime rule.

The rule allows each team to possess the ball in extra play unless the club that receives the opening kickoff scores a touchdown. If the opening drive results in a field goal, the opposing team gets the opportunity to match the score or touchdown to win. And if there’s a turnover, the first team to score wins.

The discussions around overtime come more than two months after the 2021 NFL’s playoffs, which saw six of the final seven games decided by three points or less.

The Kansas City Chiefs’ 42-36 win against the Buffalo Bills in January 2022 came in overtime. The Chiefs scored the opening touchdown and eliminated the Bills from the postseason following a thrilling comeback. Critics of the overtime rule said the Bills should have had a chance to match the Chiefs’ touchdown, resulting in a new push to change the rule.

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) reaches for the game winning reception over Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Matt Milano (58) during the AFC Divisional Round playoff game on January 23rd, 2022 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.
William Purnell | Icon Sportswire | Getty Images

Inside Rule 16

The NFL last modified the overtime rule at its March 2010 meetings in Orlando, when it changed to the current format for playoff games. During the March 2012 annual meetings, owners approved expanding the format to the regular season.

This year, owners will debate the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles’ proposal that requests possessions for both teams in overtime, regardless of whether a touchdown is scored on the first possession. The clubs cite “competitive equity” as a reason for the change.

The Tennessee Titans also want the rule changed – slightly.

Under the Titans’ proposal, the team that scores a touchdown on the opening drive would also need a two-point conversion to win.

On a call with reporters on Friday to discuss the proposals, McKay, the chairman of the NFL’s Competition Committee, said “data and analytics” support a change to Rule 16. He noted how there have been 12 postseason overtimes since the current rule was implemented, adding that the coin-toss-winning team has won 10 times. Seven of those victories came on the first drive, including the Chiefs’ win.

“That’s why there’s a discussion on a rules modification,” said McKay.

To amend the overtime rule, 24 out of 32 owners need to vote in favor of a proposal, a task McKay admitted could be difficult. The rule change proposed by the Colts and Eagles could have an impact on competitiveness. Allowing both teams an automatic possession could prolong games and increase the risk for injuries.

The current overtime rule already allows both teams a chance for a possession – should the defense stop the offense on the first possession.

Team owners will hear from the coaches sub-committee during debates.

McKay said a vote to change the rule would be a “pretty big hill to climb the first time.” Yet should the league change Rule 16, McKay hinted the Titans’ proposal would make more sense.

“If you feel like your defense is tired – you’ve scored, they’ve already scored – you have that opportunity to win the game at that point by going for two, which I think the analytics department believes many would,” McKay said.

“That’s the discussion we are going to have when we get to Palm Beach,” McKay added.

(L-R) Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg perform during the Pepsi Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show at SoFi Stadium on February 13, 2022 in Inglewood, California.
Kevin C. Cox | Getty Images

Other business to settle

On the NFL’s business front, it’s unlikely team owners will decide on significant media assets currently on the marketplace, including the Sunday Ticket package. On March 16, CNBC reported a decision around the $2.5 billion media package would likely come during the 2022 season.

Also, expect more rumblings around potential investment partners for the NFL’s media arm. The entity operates NFL Network, NFL RedZone, and NFL’s international property. It’s unclear what it could net.

Instead, smaller deals that could be completed at the meetings include the NFL’s satellite radio rights with Liberty Media-owned SiriusXM and network radio rights with Cumulus Media’s Westwood One. It’s unclear how much the deals are worth, but for a reference point, Westwood’s 2009 NFL renewal reportedly paid the NFL more than $30 million annually.

The NFL’s deal with Ticketmaster is also on the table, industry sources have told CNBC. The league renewed this agreement in 2017, and it grants Ticketmaster the rights to the league’s ticket resale marketplace. Sports Business Journal also reported a renewal is likely.

Westwood One and Ticketmaster did not immediately return a CNBC request for comment on about its NFL partnerships.

The NFL also wants to finalize agreements before the 2022 season around its Super Bowl Halftime Show rights, which Pepsi licenses. In October 2021, CNBC reported NFL is seeking $25 million to $50 million annually for that asset. The NFL’s wine and champagne rights are on the market.

NFL club presidents will also get more perspective around a new team asset. On Tuesday, the NFL permitted teams to seek blockchain sponsorships with platforms like Coinbase and FTX.

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