The NFL has passed a new rule that governs playoff overtimes. The NFL’s previous rules were that there was a coin toss and whichever team scored first would win. This gave an advantage to the receiving team. Particularly after 1994, when they moved the kickoff from the 35 yard line to the 30 yard line. Since then, 60% of games are won by whichever team wins the toss. The new rules state that each team gets at least one possession of the ball unless the team that gets the ball first scores a touchdown. This is meant to mitigate the increased advantage of the receiving team because of improvements among NFL kickers.

These rules only apply during the playoff, which some people view as a flaw because they believe that the rules should be the same between the regular season and the playoffs. That’s a non-issue for me because they’re already different (playoff games can’t end in a tie, regular season games can) and have historically been different (it used to be that there was no overtime in the regular season. Others believe that they should just go with the NCAA formula. I will get to that objection in a minute.

I don’t like the plan because it’s a remarkably indirect and arbitrary way to solve the problem. Now, when it comes to sports rules, arbitrariness is to some degree unavoidable. Even so, the rules state that if each team scores a field goal then the next team that scores wins. Why not do that for touchdowns, too? Or if the fear is that two touchdowns plus at least one more possession will drag on too long, force the second team to score a touchdown and get a two-point conversion? I think that fans would find it considerably more satisfying if they knew that each team would get a possession, even if it doesn’t change the coinflip advantage. Of course, as something of a traditionalist I would prefer they not change the rules any more than they have to. If moving the kickoff from the 35 yard line to the 30 shifted the advantage to the coinflip winners, move it to the 40 yard line and go forward with the sudden death rule.

One thing that I am glad they avoided the temptation of is going with the NCAA rules. They are a mess. The NCAA rules are certainly more “fair” than the NFL rules, but they ran havoc over scoring and record integrity. It used to be that if you saw a game that was 63 to 62, you knew that was one high-flying, exciting game. Now it might just mean that they went into overtime. That’s exciting, of course, but it makes the defenses look worse than they are and the offenses look better. Further, it gives quarterbacks and receivers and running backs touchdowns that the offense didn’t really earn. That happens anyway with turnovers, but at least in that case the defense earned it. As it stands now, they were spotted 75 yards and given full credit.

They could have avoided this with one tweak: don’t give the teams full TD and field goal credit. Make an OT touchdown worth three points and a field goal worth two. That strikes me as pretty fair since they didn’t earn the points (either through offensive movement or defensive turnover or field position jockeying). It is a variation of the extra point and two-point conversion. They only give teams partial credit on those because they were spotted 97 yards. Since scoring from the 25 is harder than scoring from the 3, they should get more than a point or two. But not much more, really. Further, the field goals and touchdowns in OT wouldn’t count towards statistics and records. Which they shouldn’t.

I wouldn’t actually want the NFL to do what the NCAA is doing, though. As with post-season rituals, different leagues should have different systems.


Category: Theater

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3 Responses to Overtime

  1. DaveinHackensack says:

    All things considered, I think the NFL’s change makes sense. I would have been OK with the status quo, but this isn’t a bad change. It is better than the NCAA nonsense.

  2. trumwill says:

    The changes are really not much worse than the status quo, but the opportunity costs are agitating. There are better moves that they could have made.

    Glad I’m not the only one that dislikes the NCAA’s method (even if your reasoning may – or may not – be different from mine). It seems to be pretty popular among those I know.

  3. DaveinHackensack says:

    My reasoning for not liking the NCAA method is that it reminds me too much of penalty kicks in soccer. It’s not quite as bad as that – penalty kicks are retarded, because they bear so little relation to the game of soccer that preceded them, and effectively negate its importance. But NCAA rules bear a lot less relation to the regulation game that preceded them than NFL overtime does.

    You may be on to something with your idea of moving up kickoffs to the 40. Another idea might be to make punting the ball from there optional (like it is from the 20 after a safety). That way, teams would start inside their 20 yard line more often. Given the dominance of the passing game today, it wouldn’t hurt to level the playing field a little for defenses, and backing up offenses in their own end more often would serve that purpose.

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