I've always hated the NFL's overtime rules. I won't go through every rule except for the most inane one: the first team to score wins. There is little competition involved; it simply promotes marching down the field, getting in field goal range, and splitting the uprights. There's no duking it out on the field, similar to regulation (it's always mystified me why the NFL didn't pattern their overtime after regulation).
When the Competition Committee meets this March 21-24, one of the items on the table is a rules change to overtime, initially during just playoff games. The cynic in me has a few reasons why, but I'll leave that for later. The proposed rules changes, as reported by ESPN, would be:
Under the new format, both teams would get the ball at least once unless the first team to get the ball scores a touchdown, Greg Aiello said. If the first team to get the ball makes a field goal and the other team ties the game, action would continue until a team scores again.
Personally, I would prefer to see the game continue, even if a team scores a TD; I think it would make for some exciting ball to see the team that's behind, march down the field and work to score a TD and try for a 2 point conversion. But this new proposal is a step in the right direction.
I've always thought there's an advantage to getting the ball first and the statistics prove it. Advanced NFL Stats, a very cool stats site, put together a story titled Why NFL Overtime Needs to Change; it's excellent reading. Of particular note:
In 96 of the 158 OTs, or 61%, the coin flip winner won the game.
In 58 of the 158 OTs, or 37%, the coin flip winner won on their first possession while the loser never touched the ball. This includes 2 of the last 3 OT games in the playoffs.
Don’t be fooled by other numbers. In 2009 there happened to be only 13 OT games, and the coin flip winner won 7 (54%). In 6 of the 13 (46%), the loser never touched the ball. The sample size for any single year is too small for a reasonable estimate of the true numbers.
Also, don’t be tricked by people that say "only 61%." If we agree 50% would be the fairest rate, you might think 61% isn’t very far from 50%. But that’s not the right way to look at it. As I wrote in my recent NY Times post, the correct comparison is 61% vs. 39%, the respective winning percentages of the coin flip winner and loser. That’s a big advantage--over 3:2. Another way to think of it is that the coin flip winner will win half again more often than the coin flip loser.
Yup, get the ball first and your chances of winning are much better. But take a few moments to read the whole article and you'll come across some interesting changes that will help remove the emotion out of it and statistically level the playing field:
I've written previously that I favor a simple solution, which I first heard from economist David Romer: Return the kickoff line to the 35 for the OT kickoff. This is a modest change that will greatly increase touchbacks, forcing offenses to start at the 20. And in OT, a 1st down on the 20 yd-line (and not the 15 as previously thought) appears to be the break-even point between where the team on offense and the team on defense are equally likely to score next. I'd guess that teams may tend to play "tighter" in OT than in regulation, and this is why the break-even point becomes the 20.
One last change they suggest would be to award the ball to the home team first rather than depend on a coin flip to determine who gets the ball to start. I like that. As stated in the article, it rewards the team that EARNED home field advantage. Seems fair to me.
Now, the cynical side of me. The NFCCG between the Saints and the Vikings was decided on a field goal in overtime, the final score 31-28. Lord Brett Favre-quat and his Vikings never got their hands on the ball. Vikings' Head Coach Brad Child-ress must've blown a gasket. I wonder how much crying came out of Minnesota because Lord Favre-quat couldn't end his career with a Super Bowl visit. Please. If he doesn't retire this year, he should be booted out of the league for incessantly wasting everyone's time.