March 19, 2010

Working Overtime


Hold on, Garrett... you ain't won yet.

Next week, the NFL owners will be voting on whether or not to change the rules of "sudden-death overtime" to something more akin to "slow, torturous anti-climactic overtime."

Under the new proposal, which would only - for now, at least - apply to the playoffs, a team that scores a field goal on their opening drive would not win. They would have to kickoff and give the other team a chance to get the ball. If the other team kicks a tying field goal, the game would then become sudden death.

NFL competition committee chairman Rich McKay explains the math behind the decision to make a change: "When sudden death was put in for 1974, it clearly worked very well and was a good system. It brought excitement and effectively broke ties. From '74-'93 you had a 50-50 (breakdown) in who would win between those who won toss and who lost the toss."

"Changes occurred over time, and the numbers have changed to 59.8 percent winning the coin toss and winning the game. The team that loses the coin toss wins 38.5 percent. We are trying to put in a system that emphasizes more skill and strategy as opposed to the randomness of the coin flip.

So what happened in 1994 to turn a 50-50 proposition into something far more unbalanced? A rules change by the NFL that moved kickoffs back five yards, shortening the distance that a team needed to go to get into field goal range - a range that itself became easier to reach as kickers got stronger.

It seems to me that is the problem, not the "sudden death." So wouldn't a better fix simply be to have the kickoff in overtime moved up five yards, back to where it was when you had the 50-50 win results?

Or better still - since you clearly don't want kickers deciding games, let's eliminate them from the equation as much as possible. Here's the new overtime rule I propose:"The winner of the overtime coin toss gets the ball, 1st and 10, on their own 20 yard line. First team to score wins."

Problem solved. If the defense can't keep a team out of field goal range from that starting point, they don't deserve to win.

But of course, the owners will probably pass this rules change so that teams won't be eliminated while their star quarterbacks sit on the sidelines helplessly watching, and next year's otherwise thrilling playoff games could end with a whimper…

"4th and 8, Kansas City back to pass, receiver open over the middle… Complete, close to the marker. We'll have to measure… The Steelers go to the Super Bowl!!!"

Missed it by that much... sorry about that, Chiefs.


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