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Overtime Rule Change Bad for The Game

Is it just me or is the NFL trying to shoot itself in the foot?  A league that rules the proverbial roost of professional sports, boasts millions of fans worldwide and can literally print its own money is doing everything in its power to screw it up. 

While the league ownership should be focusing its attention and valuable time on avoiding a potentially damaging work stoppage in 2011, instead they spent Tuesday voting on a foolish and unnecessary change to overtime rules for playoff games; a measure that ultimately carried the day, 28-4. 

To this I must ask: Was this was the most important thing on the agenda?  I think not. 

Early reaction from players and coaches alike are overwhelmingly negative, and I cannot agree more.  Besides being secondary to more important issues, there is no precedent or overwhelming need for this change.  The current overtime format has worked for decades. 

But now that it’s a fait accompli, consider the change itself.  

It is meant to provide a more “fair” overtime—in the playoffs only—by not allowing the game to end on a first possession field goal.  A first possession touchdown still ends the game.  Post first possession field goals are fine. Any defensive touchdown, safety, blocked kick or other return at any time successfully ends the game. Got it? 

So, to review, your offense can’t win the game on a kick but they can lose it for you in one of a half a dozen ways.  Truth be told, the defense can win the game in more ways than the offense can. How is this better or fairer? 

It’s certainly not simpler. 

The NFL’s heretofore “sudden death” overtime format was effective, clear, and simple.  Score and you win. If you don’t have the luxury of getting the football first, your defense must step up and do their job. 

Proponents for the change argue that this simple axiom just isn’t fair.  They point to some frankly weak statistics. Since 1994, teams that have won the coin toss and gotten the ball first in overtime have won 59.8% of the time. That seems to indicate a preponderance of evidence for them that there’s an advantage. Therefore, sixty minutes of football should not be decided by something as chancy as the flip of a coin, they say. 

But this is all boloney to me. 

9.8% over an even split isn’t exactly an overwhelming margin to me, especially when the sample is as small as 244 total games over the course of 16 years (less than 1% of the total games).  Add to that the fact that only 34.4% won on the first possession of overtime and it becomes clear this was a change that had no statistical basis.  This means that 65.6% of games did not end on a first possession.  So we can say that nearly 7 out of every 10 overtime games, the first defense to step on the field did their job.  I fail to see the disadvantage. 

Besides, football is not played in a vacuum. Teams must deal with injuries, bad calls, the weather, the crowd and other factors outside their control that may tilt the balance one way or another.  These are accepted elements of the game.  No one is promised a perfect Sunday afternoon on the gridiron with everything being 100% even. 

Why should the unpredictable nature of a coin toss get preferential treatment over the unpredictable nature of everything else?  Why should the number of possessions be somehow (partially) equalized? 

The truth is that teams are not guaranteed the same number of possessions during regulation.  Most of the time they aren’t in fact.  Depending upon how well or poorly a team plays determines the number of possessions they get during the first 60 minutes.

Possessions are earned.  Why should we try to guarantee them in overtime?  

Boloney. 

To the owners, coaches and players of the league, I say this: 

Overtime should not be treated as an “extra period”.  It should be treated as an extension of the game by one play, repeated as necessary until the score becomes unbalanced and a winner decided. 

If you lose the toss, then go out there and play defense.  Unless I’m blind, both sides get to play 11 guys.  The defense gets paid millions to stop the offense. Go earn your pay. 

The evidence suggests they do most of the time. 

In summation, wins are not freely handed out on the football field in regulation or overtime.  They’re earned as they should be. 

The rule was fine the way it was.  This new rule complicates the game unnecessarily.  It creates an unbalanced treatment of the game in the regular season versus the playoffs, and creates a different set of rules for regulation time and overtime.  Worst of all, it doesn’t even achieve the lofty goal it was meant to. 

I may be a powerless minority here, but this was a pointless move, and it was bad for the game.


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