Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Owners To Debate Hair, Playoffs
TAMPA - With potential labor strife threatening to disrupt their $7 billion industry, NFL owners meet this week at a lavish Palm Beach resort to debate the merits of better grooming. The Chiefs, who should be thinking about how to avoid a 3-13 season, are busy advocating a penalty for players whose flowing hair obscures their surname or the numerals on the back of their jerseys. Surely, the league's power elite has more pressing matters to discuss at The Breakers beyond sitting in judgment on hair length. There are several other items listed on the agenda during three days of conferences, martini lunches and early tee times.Perhaps the most surprising proposal from the competition committee is a rule change that would effectively eliminate the forceout. With scoring at its highest level since 1983 (combined 43.4 points per game), perhaps the league will offer up a rare bouquet to those beleaguered defensive players and coaches who have been legislated against for more than a generation. Under the current rule, pass catchers do not have to get both feet down in the field of play for a completion if they are judged to be carried or pushed out of bounds. "We feel there are so many levels of judgment that go into the forceout call, we just think it would create a much more consistent play when you say you get your feet down for a completed pass or you do not," said Falcons president Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee. Even if the proposal passes, completions would be allowed if the intended receiver is "held up and carried" out of bounds. Still, Monte Kiffin has something to root for in the next few days. The most intriguing proposal involves a tweaking of the playoff seeding system. Instead of automatically awarding a division champion one of the top four seeds within each conference, the committee is recommending a change that would allow a wild-card team to be seeded ahead of a division winner with an inferior record. Ties would go in favor of the division champ. In 2007, the NFC South champion Bucs finished 9-7 and were seeded No. 4 in the NFC playoffs while the 10-6 Giants, runner-up to Dallas in the NFC East, were seeded No. 5. The teams met at Raymond James Stadium in the opening playoff round and New York prevailed 24-14 before upsetting Dallas and Green Bay to reach the Super Bowl. Under the new proposal, the Giants would have been slotted ahead of the Bucs by virtue of a better record. This overdue reseeding idea is sure to come under some fire in Palm Beach, with some clubs arguing it diminishes the importance of winning your division. So what? Finishing first in a division would still guarantee a postseason berth, and the top two seeds in each conference would continue to receive that invaluable first-round bye. The irony is the Giants thrived on the road and struggled at home last season en route to an improbable NFL championship. One proposal likely to pass recommends a "dead period" of five to seven days before the official start of free agency when clubs and representatives for potential free agents would be allowed to negotiate deals. "We feel like there's too much contact that's coming from all different directions," McKay said. "If you create this dead period, you're creating a much more level playing field for those that wait the entire period. I don't see it as much of an advantage gain, because no team could sign a contract in that period of time." This proposal is a tacit admission that a significant number of NFL clubs routinely ignore the official start of free agency, beginning negotiations prematurely in order to sign a coveted player quickly after the opening bell. Kansas City coach Herm Edwards recently hinted the Bucs jumped the gun on Jeff Faine, a free agent center from New Orleans who agreed to terms with Tampa Bay on Feb. 29, within hours of the start of the free agency period. Maybe Edwards will give the Bucs a pass if Faine agrees to keep his hair tucked inside his helmet this fall when Tampa Bay travels to Arrowhead Stadium. Have you seen Faine recently? Not a problem, Herm.