Fixing the NFL OT

I defend the NFL's Overtime. You heard me correctly, I defend it. It isn't perfect, but it's far superior to what is done in college and even superior to every theory I've heard "fixing" the NFL OT. Break out my improvement for the system let me defend the current system, mock the college system, and criticize other solutions.

Before I defend Overtime, I first need to defend overtime itself. For one, the NFL cannot have ties. Too many ties would throw a wrench into the sport. So it needs an overtime. The reason it cannot add just another fifteen minutes, and play regular rules is because of the increase of injuries and fatigue. The player's union probably wouldn't allow it. So Sudden Death is also a must. Understanding this we can get to my defense of the NFL's OT.

The Defense:

The current system is nothing more than the extension of the Final Drive, which is the most exciting aspect in all of football. If one team scores as time expires there can be no complaint that “it isn’t fair” that the other team doesn’t get a shot. This is what overtime is: the extension of the final drive.

 Criticism #1: “It’s no fair the other team doesn’t get a shot.”

They do have a shot. Stop the other team from scoring, that’s football.

 Criticism #2: “Overtime is decided by a coinflip”

While it’s true that the win percentage skews favorably (but only slightly) toward those who win the toss, the one possession scenario happens about 30% of the time, meaning both teams will have a possession 70% of the time.

College Overtime

I hate it. For one it reduces the glories of football to a one dimensional exercise, but moreso it is categorically not fair. That’s right, it isn’t fair. Consider that the team going last in overtime has an enormous advantage, it’s like they get an extra down. If they need a touchdown they have four downs to get one, whereas the team going first would have to settle for a fieldgoal and hope the defense holds.

In the NFL the team losing the toss has to cover a kickoff. The average starting position in the NFL is the 30 yard line, that means a defense has to give up 30 yards before even a long range FG can be attempted. That’s three first downs a defense has to give up in OT before a team can even attempt a FG. Also keep in mind that teams make less than 50% of all FGs that are fifty yards or above (the percentage for FGs from forty yards plus is about 70% successful).

Since ensuring that both teams get a possession, thereby ensuring that the team with the last possession has an enormous advantage (of knowing how much to score and having an extra down to use), the college system is unfair. But the NFL system means a defense/special teams must stop a team from getting 40 to 50 yards so that a FG can be attempted.

Proposed Solutions:

Inferior Solution #1: “Ensure both teams get a possession”

Anything that demands both teams get a possession I won’t listen to. As mentioned above, it puts one team at an unfair advantage, but also teams routinely get more possessions than another team in a game. Just because one team gets an extra possession shouldn’t be considered unfair any more than time of possession should matter.

 Defense is a part of the game. If you can’t stop a team from driving forty plus yards at the end then you don’t deserve to win. Saying this after the season the Steelers just had makes me all the more vehement about this point. They didn’t deserve to go to the playoffs despite the talent.

Inferior Solution #2: “Possession should be determined by submitting secret bids, the team with the lowest bid gets possession.”

 Yeach. That’s not football, that’s some MMORPG strategy. But I understand the desire to limit the effect of the cointoss, but I don’t want this to turn into some sort of talking point for commentators. Think of all the crappy “drama” television would turn this ordeal into. “Sean Peyton has turned in a bid of less the ten yards only once in his career. Rex Ryan, on the other hand, routinely places the bid on odd half-yardlines.” Just flip the damn coin and get it over with.

 A Less Inferior Solution: “Make the fieldgoal posts more narrow.”

 Not a bad solution, this reduces FG attempts across the board. The result would mean zero +50 attempts and only a few +40 attempts. That changes the game fairly radically, which is why I oppose it.

 My Radical Solution

 Is not so radical, really. My only change would be to have the kickoff at the 40 yardline instead of the 30. This would result in more touchbacks meaning teams would need to drive forty to fifty yards. After that, who would complain that their team didn't get a fair chance? It seems to me that this is the most simple, most effective change that would improve the best overtime in clocked sports.



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