The Tie That Binds: Memo to the NFL Regarding Ties

Aaron LiebmanAnalyst INovember 19, 2008

There was no way the Philadelphia Eagles would walk out of Cincinnati with a loss to the Bengals.  Walking out with a win, though—that was another story.  As witnessed on Sunday, the Eagles, who have never won in Cincinnati, didn’t win, but didn’t lose either.  At least the score wouldn’t suggest that.

But when you tie a team that has only one win and you play in a division as competitive as the NFC East, it might as well have been a loss.  Already 0-3 in the division, the Eagles need to get as many victories as possible, and with those three division opponents they’ve already lost to on their schedule, the door to the postseason is closing even more. 

The possibility of a tie began crossing my mind as both teams just seemed to not be capable of doing anything with the ball.  I figured the only way would be for one team to make a huge mistake. Then happened what I thought was sure to turn the tide of the game: Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown was called for a roughing the passer penalty that put the Bengals in Eagle territory.

After watching the replay, I couldn’t see anything wrong with the hit.  I began to think the referees got word from the commissioner or someone to do whatever it took to make sure the game did not end in a tie.  It looked like the tie would be avoided.

Unfortunately, these were the Cincinnati Bengals.  The Bengals should have probably lobbed one in the end zone, and maybe the refs could have gotten them a pass interference call and the ball on the one.  Then again, that already happened once for them, and they had to settle for three. And once again, these were the Bengals, where nothing is guaranteed. 

But first, I have to ask: Why do ties exist in the NFL?  I realize that in the past they occasionally happened because the league did not play a full quarter in overtime.  Since then, sure, there have been some ties, but they have been rare.  There were two in 1997, ironically involving the Eagles and another AFC North team, the Ravens, and one in 2002, which also happened to be another interconference game.

Perhaps since they were so rare the league just assumed they wouldn’t happen and shouldn’t even bother changing the rule.  But when they do happen, they basically mean that that game was never played.

In Major League Soccer there are ties, but standings are done via points per victory/tie, as opposed to winning percentage.  With 10 games played for both team, the winning percentage can only go down since an extra game was played but no win obtained. 

So why does the NFL have a tie, besides the possibility that they just forgot to change the rule?  Is it player safety?  Do they think that if the teams play another frame someone will get hurt?  Are they afraid the fans will leave the stadium?  With television ratings at stake, do they want to avoid having to make the decision to preempt later games? 

Many players didn’t even know that a tie was an option.  Quarterback Donovan McNabb said it best when he pointed out that college, high school, and even Pop Warner games keep going.  However, he was off with the comment of the possibility of the Super Bowl ending in a tie.  Then again, McNabb doesn’t have to worry about any type of Super Bowl scenarios any time soon. 

So what should happen?  For years now they have toyed with the notion of changing the rules in the extra session.  Some have suggested the college format.  Others have said simply give each team at least one possession (which was suggested always by coaches and owners of teams that had recently lost overtime games).

My suggestion is simple: Do not time overtime.  Do not have a clock.  Just take as long as it takes for a team to score. 

I don’t know if I’m behind the idea of giving each team a possession, because quite frankly, we’d have to ponder how NFL history could have been changed had that rule been in place.

I remember in 1993 when the Giants and Cowboys were tied for the division lead in the NFC East on the last day of the season.  They headed to overtime, where the Cowboys took their first possession and kicked a game-winning field goal.  The Cowboys clinched the division, home field, and went on to win their second consecutive Super Bowl.

What if the Giants were given a possession...