A coin toss. After 60 minutes of complete physical and mental exertion, the outcome matched, the game tied. But it’s not the skill of the player or strength of the plays that determine the outcome of a tied game in America’s most lucrative sport. It’s a small, flat, round piece of metal. NFL overtime rules need a major update.
In the past year, there have been several changes made to the rules and regulations in the National Football League. We’ve seen an updated excessive celebration rule, league adjustments changing in response to CTE research, and, more recently, we’ve witnessed the controversy surrounding the National Anthem protests. It’s a time of transition within the NFL, which call to mind the benefits of other changes. Among the many changes and regulations that the NFL is currently experiencing, should the NFL overtime rule be the next to go? Yes. It does not make sense that after fighting for 60 minutes, the world’s most lucrative league has the outcomes of its games decided by a coin.
Sports Illustrated gives a brief rundown of the league’s current overtime rules:
1) Overtime starts with a coin toss to determine possession, with the visiting team captain calling heads or tails.
2) Starting this season, overtime runs 10 minutes long at maximum, down from 15 minutes in previous seasons.
Each team gets two timeouts. There are no coaches’ challenges, with officials reviewing close plays.
3) If the team with first possession scores a touchdown on the opening drive of overtime, that team wins the game. No extra point will be attempted.
4) A field goal on the opening drive means the other team gets a chance to answer. If the team with second possession scores a touchdown on the ensuing drive, that team wins. If they kick a field goal to tie, possession goes back the other way. From there, scoring is sudden death, with the first team to break the tie deemed the victor.
5) If no team breaks a tie after 10 minutes of game time, the game ends in a tie.
6) In the postseason, if the game is tied after the first overtime, a second overtime begins. There will be a two-minute intermission between overtime period. Play in theory can continue for an infinite number of overtime periods until a tie is definitively broken.
According to an article in The Ringer published in February 2017, “since the NFL instituted its new overtime rules, there have been 87 overtime games. Five have been ties, and the team to get the ball first has won 45 of the remaining 82. That’s 54.8 percent, meaning simply winning the coin toss makes a team 9.6 percent more likely to win.” To be sure, 9.6 percent of an advantage is hardly earth-shattering, however, if you consider that the advantage is all from tossing a shiny piece of metal into the air, it shifts perspective.
Take this example from a 2015 Jets/Patriots game. In a 2015 game between the Patriots and the Jets, the Patriots won the toss in overtime, meaning they had the opportunity to get the ball first in an overtime featuring the NFL sudden death rule. Instead, Patriots coach Bill Belichick decided that the Patriots should kick the ball of rather than receive it. Almost immediately after this call, the Jets scored a touchdown and the game ended. The Patriots lost. It was highly debated that Belichick’s call on the coin toss was what lost them the game.
In baseball and basketball, multiple overtime periods are played. College football’s overtime rules are basically the same, adapted to football. Wouldn’t it make sense for the NFL to adopt the fundamentals of these overtime rules, as well?
The best alternative to the NFL’s coin toss rule would be to adopt the rules used in college football. The NCAA rules for college football are much different from that of the NFL. For example, there is no sudden death in college football. There is also only a play clock, not a game clock, in overtime. Think of college football’s OT system as a mini-game.
According to Sports Illustrated, Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints quarterback went on the Dan Patrick Show and said he was in favor of the NFL adopting the college football overtime system.
“I like it. I like it. I mean, it’s exciting, right?” Brees said. “And you’re limiting the number of plays as well when you give a team the ball at the 20-, 25-yard line. And they’re already in the red zone, they’re already in scoring position, whether it’s a field goal or a touchdown. I think you’re reducing the numbers of plays, it’s exciting for fans, you know it’s situational football. So I wouldn’t be opposed to us doing something like that.”
The NFL’s current overtime rules are nonsensical and unfair. In a time of transition within the NFL, the coin toss overtime rule should be the next to go.