CHICAGO – NFL owners cut the overtime period from 15 minutes to 10 minutes during the regular season, but also gave players plenty of leeway to celebrate after a touchdown.
The two moves are expected to result in more tie games and much more elaborate end zone dance parties.
“I always planned all my celebrations,” said Denver’s Emmanuel Sanders, already known for his flamboyant TD celebrations, including one that drew a fine last season.
“Now I can go a little overboard without getting cussed out by the head coach.”
At their regularly scheduled spring meeting Tuesday, the owners also decided to shift the 2021 Super Bowl to Tampa from Los Angeles, where construction delays have pushed back the expected opening of the new home for the Rams and Chargers. Those teams will now host the league’s showcase event in 2022.
Also approved at the meeting was the Oakland Raiders lease for a stadium in Las Vegas, where the team is expected to play the 2020 season.
For all the maneuvering, end zone celebration talk generated the most buzz. After years of limiting how — and how much — players could celebrate following touchdowns, the league decided to loosen up its rules, allowing players to again use the football as a prop, celebrate as a group and roll around or flap their arms like snow angels on the ground again if they choose.
Even Commissioner Roger Goodell said he was looking forward to seeing what players would do with their new-found freedom of expression.
Asked whether he celebrated the new guidelines approved at Tuesday’s spring meetings, Goodell just laughed.
“I did,” he said. “I can’t tell you how.”
The shorter overtime period will be used in the preseason and regular season. Playoff games will also use 10-minute time blocks in overtime, but won’t end in ties.
Coaches’ concerns that too many players were exhausted and risking injuries at the end of the extra period was the key factor in the decision.
Research suggests the number of games that will go into overtime and end up tied will climb slightly. Over the past five years, with the 15-minute period in use, the league has averaged about one tie game each season. Projections show that could climb to three.
“We don’t think it will lead to more ties,” Goodell said. He noted a number of coaches said they expect a more aggressive approach to scoring with the shorter extra period.
Rams owner Stan Kroenke said he welcomed the decision to delay awarding the Super Bowl to Los Angeles by a year.
“We want to be sure that we do everything right, 100 percent,” he said after the meetings. “To have the Super Bowl, that’s the important thing.”
Unusually wet weather had already caused significant construction delays at the $2.6 billion football stadium in Inglewood, California.
Tampa originally finished as runner-up in the bidding for 2020 — one reason why owners backed the move unanimously. The NFL also would have had to waive a rule that prohibits a Super Bowl being played at a stadium before it has hosted two full regular seasons.
Goodell said the moniker “No Fun League” had been thrown around since he was an intern in the league office.
The league, however, will continue to penalize any celebration deemed offensive or in bad taste, including those that embarrass opponents or mimic the use of weapons.
If celebrations are deemed a violation by on-field officials, players could still be penalized under existing unsportsmanlike conduct and taunting violations, as well as fined.
“Everybody has a different idea where the line is,” the commissioner said.
There is no set time limit on how long such celebrations can continue. But the league is placing an emphasis on speeding up the pace of games. The 40-second play clock will begin once an official signals a touchdown and teams will have to snap the ball for their extra-point play by the end of the clock.
League officials will review celebrations during the preseason and anticipate providing guidance as the regular season progresses. Former player Jon Runyan, who is in charge of on-field disciplinary actions, will decide the fines. Two other former players, Derrick Brooks and James Thrash will hear appeals for players.
“I actually think it will be easier” for officials to determine which celebrations are appropriate, said Alberto Riveron, the league’s new senior vice president for officiating. “But some things will still be open to interpretation.”