OT, playoffs vote may be delayed


PHOENIX - NFL owners are scheduled to vote on changing the overtime format and expanding the playoff field today, but there was talk yesterday that one or both proposals could be tabled until the league meetings in May.

The overtime plan - which has the better chance to get approved - would give each team at least one possession before reverting to sudden death. Increasing the playoffs from 12 teams to 14 still appears to be a long shot.

Ravens coach Brian Billick plans to defer to the majority opinion regarding a change with overtime.

"I would be comfortable with either way," Billick said. "My perspective is that it's fine the way it is. The No. 1 priority has to be eliminate ties. But I understand the equity of having both teams getting a possession."

Billick, however, said a change to the playoffs - which would give only the top seed in each conference a first-round bye - is unfair.

"I don't care for it," Billick said. "For any number of reasons, to leave one team with a bye is too substantial and a competitive edge."

New officials policy

The NFL playoffs will be officiated by crews that have worked together all season rather than the so-called "all-star crews" that drew heavy criticism for mistakes in last season's playoffs.

"The commissioner said, 'We can't stay status quo,' " director of officiating Mike Pereira said. "One way of doing it is to revamp the evaluation system."

Under the new policy, the eight highest-rated crews will work the 11 playoff games, two fewer crews than in the past. The only changes to the crews from the regular season to the postseason would be the replacement of rookie and second-year officials by veterans from other crews.

M. Lewis gets his chance

During his days as the Ravens' defensive coordinator, Marvin Lewis would stake out Ozzie Newsome's office to lobby about drafting a defensive player with the first-round pick. Now, Lewis holds the first overall pick in the draft in his first season as the Cincinnati Bengals' coach and he doesn't plan on waiting this time.

Lewis said the Bengals will reach a decision on their selection in the next couple of weeks, which gives them two weeks to reach an agreement with the player before the draft. Cincinnati, which would prefer to trade down from the No. 1 pick, is resigned to staying there because it has yet to receive a serious offer.

"It's not going to be a surprise on draft day," Lewis said. "As quick as we can, we want to come to a consensus. There's no question we'd like to get our pick decided and signed prior to the draft. There's no secret there."

Lewis confirmed that the Bengals will bring at least three of their No. 1 pick candidates to Cincinnati for pre-draft visits: Southern Cal quarterback Carson Palmer, Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich and Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman.

Hiring inquiry pending

Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who heads the diversity committee, said there will be no resolution this week to the league's inquiry involving the Detroit Lions' hiring of Steve Mariucci as their head coach without interviewing any minority candidates. A decision, which could result in fining the Lions, could be reached in early April.

Ariz. bids for Super Bowl

Despite not having a new stadium built yet, Arizona is trying to land the Super Bowl. The committee trying to lure the league's championship game to Arizona made its presentation to NFL owners and sounded confident about its chances for 2008 or 2009.

"Our pitch was really about getting the award for 2008," chairman Greg Holmes said. "We did say that, if necessary, 2009 is a year we would be prepared for, but 2008 is our desire. It would be ideal, and we will be ready by then."

The deadline to apply is October, but a decision might not be reached until March 2004. The Arizona Cardinals plan to have a $355 million stadium built by 2006.

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