By: Mayer Fink | Opinions  | 

The NFL Needs To Change Its Overtime Rules

In the AFC Championship game this past January, the New England Patriots played against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Patriots won the coin toss, marched down the field, scored a touchdown to end the game and left the Chiefs league-leading offense on the sideline without a chance to retaliate.

This left fans outraged, many demanding that the NFL take a hard look at the overtime rules. The current rules state that a team can win on their opening drive of overtime if they score a touchdown. Anything short of that result allows the other team a chance to score.

While this rule seems specific, it should be mentioned that the original rule of overtime was sudden death. Any score of any kind would end the game. The common result of this rule would be the winner of the coin toss receiving the ball first and kicking a field goal (ending the game). This happened in the 2009 NFC Championship game, where the Saints won the coin toss and never gave the ball to the Vikings, as they kicked a field goal to send themselves to the Super Bowl.

This result prompted the league to change their overtime rules, and by the 2011 playoffs, the NFL overtime rules as we know them were put into effect. If the 2009 NFC Championship game could prompt such a rule change, it may be that the past AFC Championship game will prompt a similar change.

It’s understandable why the NFL is stubborn to change. The NFL shouldn’t adjust every time the fans get annoyed with the league, as there would be no stability as a league. It’s also worth mentioning that the NFL has multiple issues as a league that they probably prioritize over such a minor rule change like overtime. (The entire off-season the league had to hear about the missed call in the NFC championship game that cost the Saints a trip to the Super Bowl. The NFL also has to deal with a looming lockout with the players union and the league at odds over the players’ salary. As always, the NFL has to deal with concussions and CTE.)

Still, as this rule continues, more games will continue to be decided unfairly. It would be valuable to change the overtime structure now instead of keeping an overtime structure that has clear problems.

How should the NFL change their overtime rule? To start, the league has to factor in both the fairness of the format and the entertainment the format provides the fans. While a league like the MLB may have the fairest form of overtime, with each team getting an equal opportunity to score, it is clear that the MLB has the most boring form of overtime. Baseball fans leave as the game progresses, unlike other major league sports. The NHL has the most exciting overtime, as it reverts to sudden death and incorporates a shootout system to end games that drag on for too long. The NHL has taken much criticism for the shootout since the game is being decided with a completely different aspect of playing (imagine the NFL deciding games with a field goal kicking contest). With this complaint, the NHL drops the shootout in the playoffs and just plays sudden death overtime until a winner is determined. The NFL also aspired to a sudden death overtime system, but unlike hockey, the team that starts with the ball has an overwhelmingly unfair advantage.

The most viable form of overtime the NFL can imitate is the College Football overtime. In College Football, the teams rotate possessions (think of innings, where one team gets the ball, then the opposing team). Regardless of whether the team that gets the ball first scores, the opposing team gets a chance to respond. The big problem with college’s overtime is that the teams start their possessions on the defense’s 25-yard line, which basically guarantees at least a field goal.

The NFL should change their overtime to something in between college and the format they have now. Each team should get possession, like in college overtime. They should start their possession outside of scoring range, either at midfield or their own 35-yard line. If the team with the ball first doesn’t score, they should play on with sudden death.

Whether these suggestions will help the sport is yet to be determined. The bottom line is that the current format is problematic and it needs to change. 

Photo Caption: Fink argues that the NFL has an overtime issue

Photo Credit: Wikipedia