NFL Overtime: A Fair Proposal That Retains The Integrity of The Game

Adam WuerlContributor IMarch 15, 2010

GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 4:  Cornerback Al Harris #31 of the Green Bay Packers returns an interception 52-yards for a touchdown in overtime to give the Packers a 33-27 victory in the NFC playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks on January 4, 2004 in Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Harris' interception and touchdown was the first ever to win a NFL playoff game. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Finally, a movement to change the NFL's broken overtime rules appears to be gaining steam. The news has spawned numerous articles that have effectively made the case for change, perhaps none better than MMQB. Since 1994, the team who wins the coin toss has won 59.8 percent of the time; that's hardly a fait accompli, but it's not equitable either. Besides being unfair, the current overtime rules also beg for anti-climatic endings: the oft raised example is a long kick-off return followed by a couple of first downs (or a pass interference call) and a 40-yard field goal. Granted, the kick is no gimmie, but Mare's chewing out early in the 2009 season strongly suggests it's an expectation.

Frankly, the case for change has been made so strongly that the question has shifted to an analysis of the potential options. Mike Florio breaks down several, all of which have major faults. 

The current proposal solves the long FG problem but enables a team to score a TD first and keep the opposing offense off the field. I'm all for defense, but you have to admit it seemed wrong when San Diego was able to deny Peyton the chance to touch the ball. Plus, in a game of out-matched defenses, we're right back to coin toss wins. I want to see two teams competing, not one offense against one defense. OT should be a microcosm of the game, not a subset.

The college rule is another popular suggestion but also completely unacceptable. The starting point is arbitrary (the 25 yard line? really? why not 27.34, we could build special rulers). The college rules eliminates special teams (other than gimme FGs) and diminishes the role of defense (when starting that backed up, bending is breaking). Football is a multi-phased, nuanced game. The Saints planned and practiced onside kick (the first of its kind in a Super Bowl) is a testament to the role of special teams.

Lastly, the college rules establish an overtime that is a tiny subset of football: the part that takes place within spitting distance of the goal. (Regarding Florio's 10-yard version of the same abomination: I've run some calculations and determined that it's made of 2.5 times as much fail. A shootout! Any proposal that starts by making football more like soccer is dead on arrival.)

To me, the option is clear. The world's greatest sport deserves a set of overtime rules that are fair, exciting, and that embrace the full diversity of the game, including the most classy and elegant ending in all of sports: the kneel-down. This quintessential final play is unique to football (as far I as I know) and forms the basis for my modest proposal.

Overtime should begin with a coin flip and kick-off (microcosm). It ends when a team takes a knee with the lead (or goes up by more than eight points, to allow a victory on a pick-six or fumble return for TD). This change gives both teams a shot at scoring and naturally ups the ante and tension on an answering drive (the best part of the college rules) but without the contrivance of starting at the 25.

Skeptics may immediately claim that games could go on forever, but that's already a possibility in the case where neither team can move the ball, and in the event that someone scores, the need to answer requires fourth down tries. If you're up, all you have to do is hold on for one series (see, I like defense), and if you're down, a missed FG or a turnover and you're going home.

For the true worry worts, the forced two-point conversion could be borrowed from college to make it less likely that two teams will keep pace indefinitely, and an even more Draconian rule would prohibit FGs (although in practice I think a team down by three and inside the 30 is liable to go for the win; plus, removing the FG aspect of special teams violates my microcosm tenet).

Let's hope the NFL has the votes to change the broken rule, but also the courage to make a bold change that highlights the full breadth of the game and provides the best team with an even chance at victory. The world's greatest game, and its fans, deserve no less.