On Overtime: Just Give Me Fair Football

08/04/2009 § Leave a comment

The one thing that bothers me the most about both the NFL and FBS college football is overtime.  Neither system provides a fair opportunity for both teams regardless of what their strengths and weaknesses are.

In the NFL format, teams play an extra fifteen-minute quarter by the same rules as regulation play, except for a sudden-death rule.  A coin toss determines which team takes the ball on offense first, and if the overtime ends with no score, the game ends in a tie.

As you might guess, I hate the idea of sudden-death.  From 2000-2007, 30% of the losing teams in an overtime game did not get an offensive possession, and therefore no real chance to win the game.  To me, this is not simply a case of the defense needing to “step up” to give their offense an opportunity to score.  Consider two teams who each have an explosive offense but a weak defense.  They spend regulation trading touchdowns and then enter the overtime period.  Now the team that loses the coin toss must put their weakest unit on the field while the other gets to play their strongest unit.  If the coin-toss-winner scores, the game is over, without their weak defense ever having to “step up.”  This is simply unfair.

Outside of the sudden-death aspect, the silliest thing about NFL overtime is that it can still end in a tie.

Wait, what?

Why would you design a tie-breaking mechanism that can still end in a tie?  It’s absurd, especially when you consider that a no-tie version had to be designed for the playoffs.  I don’t like ties, but if you’re going to allow them, then why not just let the game end in a tie after regulation?  How is a tie after 75 minutes better than a tie after 60 minutes?  I better stop before I break something.

In the college format, teams play sets of alternating possessions, starting with the ball 25 yards out of the end zone, and continue until a set ends with a winner.  Sounds fair, right?

Too bad it’s not football.

What happened to the kickoff and the ensuing return?  Punting (and the often electrifying returning of said punts), field position strategies, bend-but-don’t-break defensive schemes—all of these things are thrown out the window in favor of some bizarre football version of Horse.

What do I want then?  Basically, a combination of these systems would suit me perfectly.  From the NFL, I would keep the inclusion of kicking, punting, and returning; from college, the equal-possession format that ensures fairness.  Or, to put it simply, the same game they were playing for the past hour, two untimed, alternating possessions at a time until someone wins.  Is that too much to ask for?

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