Tuesday, January 6, 2009

NFL should switch to timed overtime


These days, there aren't many American sports fans who don't love the NFL.

It's America's sports league, its new pastime. Television ratings are through the roof and then through another roof, stadiums are packed almost every Sunday (except, finally, in Detroit) and fantasy football is a worldwide phenomenon.

But I'm here to tell you, something needs to change. To spill the beans — or whatever's being spilled these days — the NFL's overtime system must be modified. Only, I don't want it to be changed to resemble college football's system. They both have flaws; here's the quick rundown.

1. What's wrong with the NFL's sudden-death approach?

— Initial possession is determined by a coin flip. And the team that gets the ball first, wins the most. Just view what happened Saturday: San Diego won the toss and scored, never allowing Peyton Manning and his offense to take the field. People can say all they want about defenses getting it done, but both offenses should have a shot regardless.

2. What's wrong with college football's each-team-starts-from-the-opponent's-25-yard line approach?

— If I had to choose one of the current systems, I'd take this. But here's what reeks about it: It completely eliminates two essential elements to any competitive football game — field position management and clock management. Since teams start at the 25, only a bad sack or penalty will knock them out of field-goal range. And even then, it's not like punting is an option. They have to go for it. There's hardly any decision-making involved.

And there is no game clock. So there's no managing of timeouts, or running a quick offense, or getting out of bounds. All of those aspects of a tight football game are eliminated. So while the system is equally fair to both teams — the big advantage it has on the NFL's — it simplifies the game. Overtimes should feature everything that a typical fourth quarter involves.

The above reasons are why I propose this overtime system for at least the NFL, and possibly college football as well: A 10-minute period, simple as that.

Sure, there'd still be a coin toss to determine who would get the first possession, but when was the last time you saw a 10-minute drive, especially when teams have timeouts? Yep, both teams would be given two timeouts to go with a 2-minute warning, allowing for plenty of game-management decisions in what would surely be a dramatic final couple minutes.

Then there'd be the interesting issue of tie games. Depending on the standings, some teams desperate for a win might go for a two-point conversion instead of a tie. Others might sit on the clock deep in their own territory. Think ties are meaningless? Just ask the Philadelphia Eagles, who are still playing because Cincinnati missed a field goal at the end of the teams' overtime way back when everyone thought Philly was cooked.

A couple ties a season wouldn't hurt.

Coaches might not like it, because they'd have to make many more tough decisions. In the current system, there wasn't a damn thing Tony Dungy could do as the Chargers marched for the winning score. Heck, there could even be some firings because of decisions made under this proposed system. But that's a moot point. Job security in the NFL these days is an oxymoron.

The main improvement is that both teams would almost definitely get the ball, the clock would be a huge factor, and as a fan you couldn't ask for a much more pulse-pounding 10 minutes of football. It would hardly elongate games, either, considering that many OT periods under the current format last seven to 10 minutes.

The NFL doesn't need many changes. But switching overtime formats would eliminate all the talk-radio garbage that hits the air following finishes like Saturday's. And it would make some games even more exciting.

Heck, perhaps it would even reel in those seven American sports fans who don't regularly watch the NFL.


OldEnglish said...

I'm no football junkie, but the current system has to go. I heard someone suggest the timed overtime with first possession going to the team with the fewest penalties in regulation. NFL has a lot of injuries already, so a lengthy overtime is a concern, for sure, but a coin flip is giving way too big an advantage right now.

Jonathan said...

Anything is better than the NFL's current system. Another viable option (for both the pros and NFL) is to adopt the college overtime system but simply start farther back so that point management and strategy actually become relevant again. There still wouldn't be any play clock, but the need to match or exceed your opponent's score gives its own sort of urgency, I would prefer this to having yet another series of timeouts to stop the clock.

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