Commentary

NFL's new overtime rule is lame

Originally Published: January 7, 2011
By Jim Caple | Page 2

Winter Classic scoreboard at FenwayJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesHockey and baseball have enough sense to take tie games out of a coin flip's hands.

The NFL begins a new rule for ending overtime games this weekend, one needlessly filled with odd loopholes and possibilities, thereby combining two things Americans despise -- overtime tiebreaking gimmicks and the U.S. tax code.

By saying postseason overtimes cannot end on a first-possession field goal, the league is essentially suggesting that kicking a field goal is not a good enough way to win -- or at least it isn't right away, though it will simply have to do once both teams shove themselves around the middle of the field for a sufficient amount of time. It is also acknowledging that sudden death completely sucks as a system for breaking ties.

The age-old complaint about sudden death in the NFL is that it provides far too great an advantage to the team winning something so purely random and nondramatic as a coin flip. I suppose one solution to this would be to get rid of the coin flip by replacing it with the much more strategically involved Rock, Paper, Scissors. Who wouldn't want to see Peyton Manning and Tom Brady doing the "1-2-3" count and then thrusting out their hands in a battle of wits?

(Brief digression: Why the hell does Paper beat Rock in this game? As if you would ever defend yourself with paper in a rock fight. If the local community was stoning you for adultery, could you possibly protect yourself with a sheet of paper, even if it was college-ruled? Like paper would be an adequate shield against a two-pound rock whizzing toward your head at 40 miles per hour? I don't think so. When I was a kid, my family played Rock, Scissors, Dynamite. Friends ridicule me when I bring this up now, but c'mon, it makes a lot more sense.

"It's simple, guys. Dynamite blows up Rock. Rock pounds Scissors. And Scissors cut the fuse on Dynamite."

"That's lame, Jim."

"Right, and 'Paper covers Rock' is strategic brilliance.")

Seriously, the NFL is making this a lot more difficult than it needs to be. The league should simply copy the more enlightened sports that break ties by playing an extra inning or a specific period of overtime. It's always the sports with sudden death or other game-ending gimmicks (shootouts and Kansas tiebreakers) that cause themselves grief and anger fans.

Does anyone complain about overtime in basketball and extra innings in baseball? Of course not. Those are such obvious, logical and sensible methods to break a tie, you don't even think about them. You don't have a sudden death that screws one team. You don't play another entire game. You don't award a character-affirming "tie." You just determine a real winner by playing a short overtime that allows each team an equal opportunity to score.

This has three advantages. One, it's fair to both teams, so we don't have games ending with the first basket of overtime or a walk-off home run in the top of the 10th inning. Two, you don't have to write in a loophole specifying that postseason games can't end on a sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th inning, but can end on a bases-loaded triple. And three, it keeps most overtimes reasonably short, so "60 Minutes" could air at its usual time, not just on the West Coast.

People always accuse baseball of being slow to change, which of course it is. There are still teams that play organ music. But the NFL can be equally resistant. For years it stubbornly refused to copy college football by allowing the much more intriguing two-point conversion. The NFL maintained it didn't want to risk reducing the number of its precious overtimes. This was faulty logic. First, the two-point conversion helps keep the possibility of overtime alive when teams trail by more than seven points. Second, sudden-death overtime is such a flawed tiebreaker that a league should avoid it at all costs.

Not that the NFL should copy college's tiebreaker system, which also sucks. I like that both teams get an equal chance, but the game suddenly changes from a 100-yard battle to football's 25-yard bastard child, and the stats are treated as if they are equal to those of regulation. You can play a tight, defensive 10-10 game for four quarters and wind up with a 59-54 final score that doesn't remotely reflect what actually happened.

Get rid of the gimmicks, guys. The NFL (and college) should simply play another quarter without a sudden-death distinction, thereby allowing both teams a crack at the ball (and the networks more time for commercials -- see, it's a win-win for everyone, except, of course, for the team that loses). And they should do it in the regular season, too.

And if an extra quarter doesn't end the game, play another OT period. Sure, a few, very, very rare games will go on and on and on. But that's even better. Like last summer's John Isner and Nicolas Mahut match or the 1971 Miami-Kansas City playoff game, marathons turn games into classics that fans fondly recall for decades, which is better than having fans grouse about a lost coin flip costing their team.

Some say that extra time could lead to extra injuries. But the league already is fine with playing an extra 15 minutes (which happens on those rare occasions no team scores) or with playing even more than that if it's a playoff game (again, see Miami versus KC, 1971). Besides, how can the league really be concerned about a couple of teams perhaps playing an extra 10 minutes maybe every other season or so when it is proposing that every team play two more entire games every year.

Which brings up a final way to break NFL ties: Put death into sudden death. Have lineman smash their helmets into each other until they suffer concussions that lead to brain damage and early death. No, wait. The league already does that for regulation.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter at jimcaple.


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