OPINION: There’s nothing competitive about a coin toss

The NFL overtime rules have long been under scrutiny, undergoing a few major changes in recent years. And while the NFL has certainly taken steps in improving the overtime format, I’m still not on board.

In 2012, the NFL adjusted the rules so the team with first possession in overtime could no longer win the game on a field goal. If they kick a 3-pointer, the other team gets a chance to answer. BUT if the team with first possession scores a touchdown on the opening drive of overtime, that team wins the game. This is better than the old sudden-death-by-field-goal format…. better, but not perfect.

While a coin toss is a good way to make a fair decision in most cases, like choosing who gets first possession at the start of the game, it doesn’t give both teams a fair shot in overtime. The lucky winner of the coin flip still has an unfair advantage. They get the opportunity to win the game before the other team even gets a chance to score.

Since the NFL instituted its new overtime rules, there have been 94 OT games including playoffs, five of which were ties. The team to get the ball first has won 48 of the remaining 89 games, or 53.9% of the time. In other words, the winner of the coin flip is 7.8% more likely to win the game. 7.8% may not seem like much, but tell that to the teams who lost the coin toss and the game without ever having the chance to touch the ball in overtime.

 

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When you look at other pro sports, both teams are given an opportunity to play offense in an “overtime” situation. In hockey, soccer, and basketball both team’s offenses take the ice, field, and court at the same time. Baseball is similar to football in that neither team has both offense and defense playing at the same time. When an MLB game goes extra innings, both teams get an equal chance to score. There is no coin toss or “sudden death” rule. They just play another inning.

Here’s my solution: NFL overtime should be more like baseball’s extra innings – they simply play another period. Both teams pick up where they left off at the end of the fourth quarter, just like they would at the end of the first or third quarter during the game, with NO coin toss. To keep the game from going too long and reduce the risk of injury, the “5th period” could be limited to 5 minutes. When the clock runs out after 5 minutes, the team with the highest score wins the game. If the game is still tied at the end of 5 minutes, they play another 5-minute period, with a maximum of two 5-minute overtime periods before the game ends in a tie (equivalent to the max 10-minute overtime they play now).

This is just one suggestion. Some people argue the NFL’s overtime rules should be more like the NCAA. But college football still makes use of the coin flip in overtime, and there is nothing competitive about calling heads or tails. What’s your suggestion?

 

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