I realize that this may be coming a couple weeks late, but I’ve had a couple strong opinions rattling around inside my brain that won’t go away after the NFL owners voted to change the playoff overtime rules at their annual meeting. I’ve never been a huge fan of the old overtime rule, but I have to say that I’m far more opposed to this new rule. (By the way, I’m proud of Zygi Wilf, the Vikings’ owner who refused to vote for a new rule, even after his team lost the NFC championship game after never getting to touch the ball in OT. This blog post is in no way a complaint about that Vikings’ loss. I am far more bitter towards Brett Favre and his incompetency as a playoff quarterback than the NFL’s playoff rule. Favre is the greater evil here.) The big idea here is that with the old system, the team that won the coin toss in overtime, won the game 59% of the time, and thus, it was a disadvantage to lose the coin toss. Also, since teams only needed a field goal to win the game, people didn’t like the fact that the object of the game was no longer necessarily to get the ball across the goal line, but rather, just get your team to the 30 yard line with a good kicker so he could win the game. But the way they fixed it, still doesn’t seem like it makes sense to me. The very thing they were trying to fix, one team never getting to possess the ball, can still happen under this new rule if the team with the ball first scores a touchdown. So the NFL may find that this problem will keep occurring, because the team with the ball first doesn’t want to settle for a field goal, and open the door for the other team to march down and score a touchdown for the win. Plus, it’s an advantage to be the second team to get the ball if they are only down 3, because they know that if they only tie the game, that it’s back to sudden death, and they’ll have to kick it back to the first team, so I think you will see the second team going for it on 4th down, even in field goal range, a lot of times, because they wouldn’t want to give the ball back again. Plus, since it’s already do or die the team that gets the ball second, is basically given an extra down because they will always go for it on 4th down if they’re out of field goal range. To me, the game is still different than when it is played during regulation, and what makes for a good overtime is when the game most closely duplicates how the game is played prior to overtime. That’s why basketball is the best overtime, and it always will be. Now that I’m done complaining, I’m actually going to do something constructive and propose some alternative solutions to this problem, and then declare my favorite. I believe that every single one of these options is better than the one that the NFL decided upon. And while we’re at it, let’s just say that these changes should be for the regular season as well. Get rid of the incongruity of the playoffs and regular season, and get rid of those stupid ties. Ties are for soccer and hockey (oops, not the NHL anymore).
1. Sudden death
I know, I know, I just got done saying that the game should be the same as during regulation, but that being said, the point of sudden death is to keep teams motivated to win the game in regulation, so they don’t have to face the feared, spontaneous sudden death, where anything can happen. There are 3 variations of this that I would like to suggest, (one of which has 3 variations of its own). The first is the original rule, which has its flaws, but I still say is better than the new rule. The second is to have sudden death with no kickoff. This actually makes the game even less like regulation, but hear me out. I have 3 variations for the no-kickoff sudden death format. First, the team that wins the toss has the option to start with the ball on their own 20, or defend their opponent who would start at their own 20. Knowing beforehand that you have to start with relatively bad field position might make a team choose to start on defense first, and if teams still consistently win more by starting with the ball, the yard line could be changed to the 15 or something else. The second option could be that the winner of the toss can choose to name a yard line on the field, and then the loser of the toss gets to choose whether to start on offense or defense, or the winner could defer the naming of the yard line to the other team and thus, switch positions. This way more strategy and gamesmanship is involved. Are you confident enough to start with the ball from your own 12? 8? Or even 5 yard line? I really like this idea. The third option would be the same as second one, only it’s kind of like an auction style. The winner of the toss has to name a yard line that they would like to start on offense from. Then the other team can choose to play defense and let the winner start with the ball from the yard line that they stated, or they could name another yard line, that has to be further from the goal line from the first, and the roles are reversed. This continues until someone has the balls to say, that they could stop their opponent from the named yard line. How low could we get on this one? Probably lower than the second option, and in theory, we could have overtimes decided on safeties. I like these two options because of the importance of a good defense, but also, if you have a really good offense, you could be bold enough to take the ball at your own 5 and still drive down and win the game. The third and final option for sudden death, is to just move the kickoff position to the 35 yard line, and thus making it tougher to get good starting field position for the team that receives. This was the old, old rule before the NFL moved it back to the 30 to get more kickoff returns and less touchbacks, but this might take some of the advantage off of being the receiving team, and thus bringing that 59% down closer to 50%.
2. The college rule
College football overtimes are crazy. I like them a lot because of all the scoring, but also because there’s always the possibility of multiple overtime periods. Since the NFL has far better place kickers than the NCAA, I think if the NFL adopted this rule, they’d have to push the team with the ball back to the 35 yard line, instead of the 25. The big drawback here is that teams that could end up going 5 or 6 overtimes could end up fatigued for their next game, or possibly injured. Also, why does the NCAA count all of these stats the same as regulation stats? Peyton Manning could end up throwing 7 touchdowns in one game in this format, and the single season touchdown records would all be in jeopardy with this format out there. So I would propose that the stats would be kept separate for record purposes.
3. Another shortened period, basically how basketball does it
Like I said before, basketball has the best overtime, so why can’t it work for football? I think a 7-10 minute overtime period that involves no sudden death and is played just like the game is played during regulation is the best solution. The only way the second team wouldn’t get the ball would be if the first team executed an intensely long drive that ran out the clock and still marched all the way down the field to score with no time left on the clock. That is so difficult to do, especially since there would still be two timeouts per team, that I say if a team can pull this off they deserve to win, and it shouldn’t matter that one team never got the ball. Stop ‘em! Or let ‘em score a little quicker.
Anyhow, those are my suggestions, and my personal recommendation is option #3. I wish NFL owners read my blog.