A New NFL Overtime Rule

All this week, there has been a lot of commentary about the need for the NFL to “do something” to minimize the likelihood that something akin to the infamous no-call at the end of the Rams/Saints NFC Championship Game does not happen again without some sort of logical recourse.  It will be on the agenda of the Competition Committee and already there is reporting that there is a difference of opinion among members of that Committee about what can be done and what should be done – – if anything.  I will not pretend to have a suitable answer to that conundrum.

To a much lesser extent, there has been debate/consternation about the NFL’s overtime rule which was on display in both Conference Championship Games.  The short form of the consternation goes like this:

  • The Chiefs – and their dynamic young QB – never got on the field.
  • The coin flip determined the game’s outcome.

The first item is inarguably true.  I think the second one is NOT true; but because so many people seem to think it is true, I tried to come up with a modified OT Rule that would alleviate those concerns.  Before I reveal my idea, let me state a principle that guided my thinking:

  • Baseball and basketball have the best “overtime rules”.  When a game is tied at the end of regulation time, the teams continue to play the same game they played in order to reach that tie-score situation.  I want any new NFL OT Rule to produce as much “normal NFL football” as possible.

[Aside:  Since the introduction of the current OT rule in the NFL in 2010, the team winning the coin flip is the game winner 52% of the time; so, the advantage to winning the coin flip is hardly overwhelming.]

Ideally, I would have the two teams take a 3- or 4-minute break to gather themselves physically and mentally and then flip a coin to see how the OT will begin and then play a 15-minute “fifth quarter” and see what the score is at the end of the “fifth quarter”.  If it is still tied, then play a “sixth quarter” and so on…  Notice I started this paragraph with the word “Ideally”.  Here is why that is not going to happen:

  • With the league’s focus on player safety, they are not going to require teams to play on in 15-minute segments.  While it could in fact take that long before a game ended – as happened in the famous “kick to the clock game” (Google is your friend) – I seriously doubt that the league would set it up that every OT game would require that much extra wear and tear on the players.

The college OT rule necessitates that both teams play offense and defense to determine the final score.  That is a plus; but giving the offense the ball at the opponent’s 25-yardline as a starting point seems like far too much of a concession to the offense.  However, I will use the college OT rule as the starting point for my suggestion.

I want the game to be decided by football plays to the greatest extent possible and so I will insert one deviation from the rules that got the teams to the overtime situation:

  • There will be no kicking of the football in the OT.
  • There will be no punts (you will see why none are necessary) and there will be no field goals nor PATs.
  • I know; special teams are an important part of the game.  Nonetheless, those guys can use their energies to exhort their teammates to “win it all”.

There would be no need to flip a coin; the visiting team will get the ball first.  That means that in the Super Bowl game, the visiting team will be the NFC team in even numbered years and the AFC team in odd numbered years.  Before the game starts, teams have to know if they are the home team or the visitors; that does not seem to be overly burdensome.  Then:

  • Visitors get the ball at the 50 yardline first down and 10 to go.
  • Whenever any set of downs begins with the ball outside the defenders’ 30 yardline, the offense has 3 downs to make a first down.  That simulates the “normal” course of the game where the fourth down would be a punt or a field goal try most of the time.  If they do not make a first down on those three plays, the ball goes over.
  • Whenever any set of downs begins at or inside the 30 yardline, the offense has 4 downs to make a first down.
  • If the defense holds, the ball goes over.
  • If the offense scores a TD, they MUST attempt a 2-point conversion.  If the defense runs back the 2-point conversion try for a TD the other way, the defense scores 2 points for its side.
  • Then the home team gets the ball at the 50 yardline and proceeds with its attempt to score a TD followed by a mandatory 2-point conversion.
  • At the end of a pair of possessions – one for each team – you examine the score.  Either there is a winner and the game is over, or the score is still tied, and the teams begin a second pair of possessions – this time at their own 40 yardline.
  • Any future pairs of possessions beyond the second set will also begin at the same 40 yardline.

I concede from the outset that removing the kicking from the game – particularly because the game is called “football” – violates my ideal condition of just playing the game in OT the same way you played the game in the first quarter.  However, in my defense, the current OT rule dramatically changes the strategy of NFL overtime games:

  • If the team with the first possession kicks a field goal and then kicks off to the other team and the kickoff goes out of the end-zone, the trailing team gets the ball at the 25 yardline.
  • If on that first series of downs, the trailing team faces a 4th and 16 situation at their own 19 yardline, they are going to go for it.  Punting the ball would concede defeat. However, “going for it” would never happen in the first quarter of an NFL game.
  • Elimination of kickoffs in my suggested OT Rule nods in the direction of “player safety” in the sense that kickoffs produce more injuries than “normal” football plays – or so the NFL folks would have us believe.

I do not expect a call from the Commish thanking me for resolving this issue for the league nor do I expect to become a consultant to the Competition Committee.  All I tried to do here is to come up with a relatively detailed description of how to conduct an overtime game keeping as close as possible to the normal rules, making sure that both teams get the ball, and trying to avoid playing another quarter or half or more of normal football.

Finally, the furor over the completely botched call by the officials in the Rams/Saints game last weekend seems to have died down to the level of an uproar.  Brad Dickson had this Tweet that starts to put that disaster into perspective:

“The Oscar nominations are out. Best Actor nominees include the refs in the NFC and AFC Championship games for acting like they know what they’re doing.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



2 thoughts on “A New NFL Overtime Rule”

  1. Jack-great ideas, which means the morons at the NFL wouldn’t understand them…on a side note did you see that an eye doctor back home (Louisiana) offered free eye exams for life to all NFL referees?

    Geaux Saints (they was robbed).

    1. Jim D:

      I did see that note about the eye doctor and the free eye exams. Clever man; lots of marketing exposure for zero expenditure.

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