Finally, a movement to change the NFL’s broken overtime rules appears to be gaining steam. The news has spawned numerous articles that have effectively made the case for change, perhaps none better than MMQB. Since 1994, the team who wins the coin toss has won 59.8 percent of the time; that’s hardly a fait accompli, but it’s not equitable either. Besides being unfair, the current overtime rules also beg for anti-climatic endings: the oft raised example is a long kick-off return followed by a couple of first downs (or a pass interference call) and a 40-yard field goal. Granted, the kick is no gimmie, but Mare’s chewing out early in the 2009 season strongly suggests it’s an expectation.
Frankly, the case for change has been made so strongly that the question has shifted to an analysis of the potential options. Mike Florio breaks down several, all of which have major faults.
The current proposal solves the long FG problem but enables a team to score a TD first and keep the opposing offense off the field. I’m all for defense, but you have to admit it seemed wrong when San Diego was able to deny Peyton the chance to touch the ball. Plus, in a game of out-matched defenses, we’re right back to coin toss wins. I want to see two teams competing, not one offense against one defense. OT should be a microcosm of the game, not a subset.
The college rule is another popular suggestion but also completely unacceptable.
- Starting at the 25 yard line is arbitrary
- These rules eliminate special teams (other than gimme FGs). Ask the Bears and Devin Hester or the Seahawks and Leon Washington if they agree the threat of their return men should be eliminated from overtime. Football is a multi-phased, nuanced game. The Saints planned and practiced onside kick (the first of its kind in a Super Bowl) is a testament to the role of special teams.
- The role of defense is overly diminished, because when starting that backed up, bending is breaking.
- Lastly, the college rules establish an overtime that is a tiny subset of football: the part that takes place within spitting distance of the goal. ( Florio’s 10-yard version of the college rules exacerbates these problems by turning OT into a shootout. Any proposal that starts by making football more like soccer is dead on arrival.)
To me, the option is clear. The world’s greatest sport deserves a set of overtime rules that are fair, exciting, and that embrace the full diversity of the game.
My simple suggestion
Begin overtime with a coin flip and kick-off. The game ends when a team has the lead and possession (or goes up by more than 8 points to account for a pick-six, fumbled recovered in the end zone, or a safety).
This change gives both teams a shot at scoring and naturally ups the ante and tension on an answering drive (the best part of the college rules) but without the contrivance of starting at the 25.
Skeptics may immediately claim that games could go on forever, but that’s already a possibility in the case where neither team can move the ball, and in the event that someone scores, the need to answer puts the offense in four-down territory. If you’re up, all you have to do is hold on for one series (see, I like defense).
Let’s hope the NFL has the votes to change the broken rule, but also the courage to make a bold change that highlights the full breadth of the game and provides the best team with an even chance at victory. The world’s greatest game, and its fans, deserve no less.