Sunday, January 04, 2009

NFL overtime rules

It baffles me that any one can defend the NFL’s overtime rules. The typical defense is that whoever wins the coin flip, the offense has to drive down the field and the defense has to stop them.

No doubt, this is true. But this doesn’t justify having sudden death. The game is a contest to determine who, on this day, is better. In a tie situation, the teams are obviously evenly matched. Sudden death does not entangle this and show that one team is better.

So why have sudden death?

One reason might be to prevent injury by playing a full 5th quarter. Another 15 minutes of football after 60 minutes of football means a lot of fatigued guys running around. Likelihood of injury probably is increased. Sudden death ends the game once someone scores, so typically the game will end without another full 15 minutes of playing.

This is reasonable, but points more to scoring the game a tie. If injury is the concern here, why not avoid the possibility all together and not have an overtime? After all, if the game is tied after the overtime period (in the regular season), the game is scored a tie. After 60 minutes of regulation, what’s wrong with having a tie? Nonetheless, for post-season games a resolution is needed. So why have sudden death as the scenario? Other than injury concerns, I haven’t come up with another reason.

The central problem with sudden death is that it makes it possible that the contest is determined on the basis of one component of the game. Football is a contest with three distinct components: special teams, defense, and offense. Both sides in sudden death engage in special teams. But if the game is won on the first possession, the teams only play either defense or offense. And this happens, historically, about 30% of the time (Source) A true test of a football match is not just how well a team plays defense, but how well it plays both offense and defense.

The rules should be designed to make sure that each team in each overtime gets to exercise all three components in the determination of the victory. Sudden death fails this, and so makes the game an incomplete contest.

There are several options for such rules:

  • Play a full period.
  • Use the NCAA system of giving each side a possession.
  • Give the scored-on team an opportunity to score, if they fail to, the game ends.

While playing a full period seems unnecessary and raises injury concerns, I don’t see a problem with either the NCAA or similar systems that insure each side has an offensive and defensive possession.


Anonymous said...

why not just keep on playing.
No coin toss.
First team to score wins.
Whatever the game situation was after 4 quarters is the situation in overtime.
i.e. if your Team has the ball on the opposition 35 yard line and its the 3rd down, then thats how the games starts in overtime.

what do you think?

see ya

Patrick Stephens said...

Ties? What, you want it should be like soccer? Commie.

I like the NCAA rule, but they should start at the 35.

Shawn Klein said...

At first, I thought, sure why not? But there is an importance in marking the end of regulation time. The game ends after 60 minutes. Also, clock management in football is important, and this takes that element away at the end of the game.

Patrick Stephens said...

I like the NCAA rule, but your point about clock management brings up an interesting argument. Any scenario that is not simply "keep tacking on quarters until one team is winning when the quarter ends" is a gimmick.

Anonymous said...

despite football being divided by position that feed into the world of fantasy points, it is a team sport. the defense of the team, represents the team. arguing that both teams should have the ball on offense creates a distinction that does not concur with football being a team sport.

if you cant get your mvp quarterback on the field in overtime because your defense cant make a stop. you are not a balanced team and deserve the loss.

Nostreffej said...

I see what you are saying about one team having the advantage, but then, do they really have the advantage? Think about it. As you said in you post, their is a 30% chance that they will score on that first drive. However, that means that most of the time (70%, actually), the other team gets the ball. This is where it all evens out. Although team A gets the ball first, 70% of the time, they won't score and, if the other team has good enough defense, then team B will have the ball in a very good position. In fact, teams with good defense often decide to kick the ball rather than recieve it because they know that, after the turnover, they are already within scroing distance!

Shawn Klein said...

Hi Nostreffej. I see your point; however, I've never seen a team win the coin toss in overtime and elect to kick off (as you suggest). That should tells us something.

birtelcom said...

A problem with simply continuing the game in place after 60 minutes is that will increase the average length of games -- teams in possession in a tie game will not hurry to score. An alternative is to begin overtime from scrimmage at a yard line chosen by one team, after which the other team has the right to choose to start play on either offense or defense. The result should tend to be a sudden death overtime in whiich each team has a pretty much even chance of winning.

Unknown said...

Option 1: Simple: Allow one change of possession. If team A scores, Team B gets a chance to tie or win. If Team A fails to score, a score by Team B ends the game. Both teams get at least one possession.

Option 2: Wrinkle: First to 4 points wins. This definitely utilizes the 3 components of the game but with 1 trump card: if a team manages to score a TD on their first possession in OT, the opposing team's defense failed to such a degree that the game should end right there.

As you pointed out, the fact that no team elects to kick-off if they win the coin toss DEFINITELY tells us something.

Anonymous said...

Overtime will start not by a kickoff, but by the placement of the ball on a chosen yard-line. The chosen yard-line and the team in possession are determined by asking each coach (privately) the yard-line at which his team is willing to take possession. Whichever team chooses the less advantageous yard-line is granted possession of the ball, 1st and 10, at that yard-line.

For example, if the home coach chooses his own 29 yard-line and the away coach chooses his own 23 yard-line, the overtime begins with the ball in possession of the away team, at its own 23 yard-line.

Sport rules said...

I support the overtime rules of the NFL as it is very much important for the pace of the game.