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Owners to Vote on Key Changes

March 25, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

PHOENIX — NFL owners will vote on three significant changes today -- alterations to overtime, instant replay and the playoff system -- but it's unlikely any of the proposals will pass.

The overtime change would give each team at least one possession in the extra period, eliminating the sudden-death format. The playoff field would be expanded from six to seven teams per conference, meaning only the top-seeded team would receive a first-round bye. The instant-replay proposal -- the longest shot to be approved -- involves changing the system to allow coaches who successfully challenge a call to get that challenge back so it can be used later in the game.

Tampa Bay General Manager Rich McKay, co-chair of the Competition Committee, said the most interesting vote could be the bid to expand the playoff field.

"A number of teams are in favor of it," he said Monday. "From the committee's perspective, we said going into [realignment, which began last season] to see if in two years any inequities arose. We're one year into it, and none arose. Accordingly, I don't think the committee will be able to endorse a change."

There are two main arguments against expanding the playoff field.

First, it waters down the playoffs, making it easier to get in. Second, the bye gives the top-seeded team an enormous advantage.

"The bye week is contrary to the idea that we try to sell that every game both teams have a fair chance," said Kansas City Chief owner Lamar Hunt, who is in favor of expanding the playoff field from 12 to 16 teams -- or half the league. He favors a playoff format with no bye weeks. Currently, the top two teams from each conference sit out the opening week.

"I don't know why if you had a season and you have your best teams, your most attractive teams with the four best records, I don't know any business that would say we've got these four best teams and we're not going to put them on television this week. We're going to put them in the freezer for a week and we're going to be televising lesser teams, which is what it amounts to. That's very unusual. Most sports try to feature Duke or Kansas or the Lakers or Yankees, and what we're doing is taking our four best teams and saying we're not going to show them on television."

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Despite concerns about the war, NFL Europe will go on as scheduled. Players will begin traveling to Europe today, and the season will start April 5. NFL owners were debating whether to put players on hold, then revisit things next week, but they decided to keep the plan intact.

"Over the years, we've done a better and better job of security in NFL Europe, trying to bring it up to the standards we have here in the United States for our NFL teams," NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said. "There was considerable additional effort on that last year, post-9/11, and that will continue."

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Although they were impressed by the presentation they heard on the Rose Bowl earlier this month, team owners are still taking a prove-it stance when it comes to that stadium as a potential NFL solution in Los Angeles.

"I think the idea has some legs, but there are a lot of unanswered questions," said Pat Bowlen, who owns the Denver Broncos. "A month ago I would have said it's a daydream. Now it sounds like it may have some possibilities."

Led by investment banker John Moag, a group of Rose Bowl and Pasadena officials recently delivered a presentation on the stadium to a group of owners in Palm Beach, Fla. Moag is attending these meetings but has no plans to give a formal presentation. He's leading the charge to renovate the stadium, a job that could cost $400 million or more, so the NFL can return to L.A.

Owners on Monday approved a one-year extension of the G-3 program, which provides loans of up to $150 million to franchises building new stadiums. It was due to expire at the end of this month. Because a team that relocates is ineligible for a G-3 -- and further expansion is highly unlikely in the short term -- the league would have to come up with a different type of financing mechanism to help pay for an L.A. stadium.

Tagliabue said last spring the league will strongly consider awarding a Super Bowl to Pasadena, provided its played in a "significantly renovated" Rose Bowl, something that would only happen if a team made it its permanent home.

Several owners say they are open to the idea of pro football at the Rose Bowl, but they are unsure of how that can be accomplished, considering the issues of historical preservation and sufficient access to the stadium.

"It's a complicated process," Philadelphia Eagle owner Jeffrey Lurie said. "We're right in the middle of evaluating it. We don't really know about the transportation issues, the parking scenario, everything. The question is, can we gain the state-of-the-art facility we need to thrive in Los Angeles?"

Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones is optimistic that a solution could be close.

"We all recognize that we have to have a team in Los Angeles, that it's important. The only way I know to do it is the same way you play football: be persistent."

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