The Haphazard Blog

NFL Overtime: Fix It!

by on September 11, 2009 10:18 PM, under Football, Sports

Pittsburgh won last night in overtime. My feelings towards the Steelers (I hate them) not withstanding, the NFL seriously needs to fix OT. Below is my plan and some stats to support my thinking.

My primary issue with the NFL’s overtime rules is that it fundamentally changes the way a game is played. The teams use one strategy for 60 minutes and use another in OT. In OT, when a team approaches FG range, each play turns into the last play of the game (as if there isn’t time for another play.) So you have actions like:

  • Kicking a FG on 1st, 2nd or 3rd down.
  • Kicking a FG following a turnover.
  • Running and kneeling to place the ball for a FG.

Everything they do is just to get the FG as the last play of the game.  A lot of normal game strategies are thrown out the window. If the goal of the NFL OT isn’t to simply prevent ties (if it is, then this system is perfect except they would need to have an unlimited amount of time to prevent all ties) I propose an alternative system that addresses the lop-sided coin flip and player’s concern over extra playing time.

First, some statistics I compiled.

Over the last 5 seasons, the percentage of teams winning the coin flip, taking the ball and winning was 31%, 33%, 42%, 38% and 53%. That averages out to 39% over 5 years. Over the last 5 seasons, the percentage of teams winning the coin flip and eventually winning the game (the team winning the coin flip is generally favored to have more possessions since OT is sudden death and the team losing the coin flip can only have as many possessions as their opponent unless they successfully attempt an onsides kick) was 69%, 53%, 58%, 56% and 73%. That averages out to 62% over 5 years and never below 50%. I think the fact that the winner of the coin flip always chose to receive speaks for itself. Everyone believes winning the coin flip is an advantage. Also, when has anyone wondered what would’ve happened if the other team won the coin toss at the beginning of the game? No one really sees the coin flip at the beginning of the game as being all that important (even TV coverage agrees since they often don’t show it, but you never miss the OT coin toss).

Over the last 5 years, OT games have averaged 2.35 possessions, had a length of 6 minutes and 33 seconds and 14.4 OT games per season. Going to a full 15 minute period would add on average, 7 minutes and 33 seconds to each team’s total game time.  However, I don’t like a plan to just play for 15 minutes. As I said, I don’t like that the game strategy changes. My suggestion instead is (I’m not the first person to suggest this):

  • Two-3 minute and 15 second halves
  • Use the same timing rules used in the last 5 minutes of a half during the game, no 2-minute warning
  • 3 timeouts for each team
  • Booth review for all replays
  • In the regular season the game can end in a tie at the end of the 2 halves.
  • In the postseason, halves are repeated until there is a winner at the end of both halves.

This eliminates the question of what would’ve happened if the other team won the coin flip. It adds back most football strategy like clock management and reduces playing for the FG. It doesn’t increase the average playing time and it keeps the OT sufficiently short enough for TV considerations. The rules are similar to the rest of the game except the time on the game clock is significantly less to start each half.

As many people say, it will probably take a Super Bowl to end in a tie at regulation and have the winner of the coin flip take the ball down the field and kick a FG on 1stdown after a great offensive battle before they change these rules. Either way, I’ve posted this and now I can refer to it instead of repeating it. :)

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