Our Simple Solution To Fixing The NFL Overtime

The NFL’s got a great product, as everyone knows, but there’s one glaring weakness. The overtime rules set forth in 19whatever befit a different time, when kickers were far less accurate and coaches much more gung-ho. But nowadays, fully 44% of the overtimes are won without one team ever touching the ball–in essence, coming down to the coin flip. It’s basically one team getting a decent return to the 30 or 35, gaining a first down or two, getting a pass interference call on a deep ball, turtling around the 20 to set the ball up at the middle of the field, and kicking a field goal. Not that exciting. It’s a cruelly uncompetitive finisher in a league where playoff berths can flip on a single W or L.

(”Whoever gets this probably wins. Sorry, other team.”)

So the NFL’s “looking at” changes, and who knows what’ll come of that. The last time a football organization tried to figure out an overtime structure, the ridiculous mess that is the college OT setup came out. The NFL cannot adopt those rules; there’s no time limit and it barely resembles “real” football. MOUTHPIECE SPORTS and SHUTDOWN CORNER have a couple ideas, and they’re not bad. Seriously, either an auction plan or shortening the overtime (see above links) would be definite improvements.

But we think we’ve got a better plan. We can only submit to the court of public opinion for the NFL, but we’re definitely sending it to the CFL. We’re dead serious about this, people: one simple rule change that will make overtime the most intense, entertaining part of the NFL.

That rule is… field goals don’t automatically win.

The rest of the rules stay pretty much the same: Coin flip to start the period, 15 minutes on the clock. Touchdowns or safeties win the game. It’s important to reward going for the end zone or playing spectacular defense. Further, field goals are still worth three points and can win you the game fairly quickly.

The catch is that if a field goal is kicked, the opposing team has one chance to score.

There’s still a considerable incentive to kicking the field goal; the team is now one stop away from winning. But at the same time, there’s still incentive for a defense to play hard if it’s backed up to its own 1 in overtime; keeping the other team out of the end zone keeps the game alive.

So what happens after a field goal? Well, it’s a regular kickoff. The clock still runs; kicking a field goal with 5 seconds left should still be as heroic as if the game were in regulation. But if the other team turns the ball over, the game is over. If they kick a field goal, we’re back where we started. If they get into the end zone, they win.

Just think about it: instead of a rinky-dink chip shot field goal automatically ending the game, it leads to a situation where a team is down 3 and must score immediately. Or in other words, something like this, which you might remember(skip ahead to 3:24, and turn down the music):

Think of the added pressure and risk calculation (in other words, excitement) that this rule change would add. It’s a win-win -¬†game theorists will have a field day creating risk-reward strategies with probabilities stacked on probabilities, but at the same time, the message is simple: go out there and earn a win. And the country’s most popular sport will finally have an overtime whose quality suits it.

Make it happen, Roger Goodell.

One comment

  1. GravatarGB
    5:26 pm on February 22nd, 2009

    Play the entire quarter. Then if it's still tied they could do either the sudden death or the college system, although the latter could make for some interesting fantasy problems if you get a 77-76 nine OT game.