OPINION: It’s about time that the NFL address the imbalance of overtime

Former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper attends the coin toss as an honorary captain at the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Salute to Service game in Atlanta, Georgia on November 24th, 2019. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It has been a long time coming for the NFL to change their anti-climatic overtime system that rewards a team based on a coin flip as opposed to giving both teams an equal opportunity. These rules should be changed so that each team has a chance to move the ball on offense, similar to college football where each team spars off from the other’s 25-yard line.

Currently, NFL overtimes operate on a system where the team that starts with the ball on offense has a chance to end the game on the first drive of overtime if they are able to score a touchdown. If they kick a field goal, punt, or turn the ball over then the opposition has a chance to retake the field. Before 2011, even a field goal on the first drive brought a stop to the game, meaning the team only had to drive about 50 yards down the field to kick and get the win. After the 2011 rule change, however, a successful field goal still allows the opponent to march down the field with their offense. Since then, only a touchdown on the first drive will end the game.

It is still not enough. These rules remain flawed.

In the eight playoff overtime games since 2011, five have ended with a touchdown on the opening possession. 

Most people were hoping for both teams to have a shot for their offense to see the field in overtime with the requirement of a touchdown to seal the game, but that just has not been the case. Keep in mind that this is on the NFL’s biggest stage, with upwards of 30 million viewers per playoff game. It is disappointing, to say the least.

While a more entertaining extra time arrangement has been bargained for by fans for quite some time, there are still many who oppose the idea for various reasons. Amongst those who want to keep the traditional rules, their most common argument surfaces around the idea that each team has a fair chance in regulation, with 60 minutes and many drives to give their team the advantage.

They claim that if the defense loses the coin flip and cannot stop the offense from scoring a touchdown, then there is no excuse for losing and no reason to be upset for not having a chance to put their offense on the field as well. 

“The NFL overtime format is perfect… [if an offense does not get on the field] that is excuse making, and excuses are for losers,” according to Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The followers of the current rules will clamor that this system is flawless and claim that the losing team should have won in regulation before even letting it reach extra time. However, the logic behind this is contradictory in the sense that the other team should have done the same, given they had an equal opportunity throughout the game to win before letting it slip into overtime. Regardless, both teams ended up in the same position, with an advantage going to the team that wins the coin toss.

It has been a long time coming for the NFL to change their anti-climatic overtime system that rewards a team based on a coin flip as opposed to giving both teams an equal opportunity.

The leverage in winning the coin toss is clear. Since 1974, the team that has won the coin toss in overtime has won the game 52.7 percent of the time. The team that loses the coin toss only wins 42.7 percent of the time. The remaining 4.6 percent of the overtime games resulted in a tie. 

Even from an entertainment standpoint, the team that gets the ball ends the overtime with a touchdown on the first drive 27.7 percent of the time. As stated previously, the margin was even higher in the playoffs with this even occurring in five out of the eight situations.

Here is what could be done: the NFL can amend their overtime system to replicate the format of the college football overtime rules. However, there is one major change added to accommodate for the safety of the players. In college, teams are forced to attempt a two-point conversion following a touchdown after three possessions each in order to cease the game sooner. A two-point attempt is much more unlikely to be successful than an extra point, hence why it would likely end the game quicker. 

This exclusive college football ruling comes into play somewhat late as six total possessions may take quite a while and elongate the game, which can increase chances of injury among the players. The NFL may not be fond of this, as has begun to take steps recently to backtrack on the athletes’ injuries. In 2017, they shortened the overtime length from 15 to 10 minutes in the name of player safety. 

To coincide with the excitement of the college football overtime but also account for safety, the best solution would be to restrict teams from extra point attempts after regulation. All touchdowns must be followed up by a two-point conversion attempt immediately. 

Not only will this allow each team to put their offense on the field, but it will also provide for more entertainment and still account for player safety. Fans will be able to enjoy a fast-paced overtime, and it will be kept shorter to stay in line with the NFL’s progression towards a safer playing environment.

Aside from entertainment, having both offenses on the field in overtime is essential to the game of football. Too many times fan bases are left hopeless after watching their team suffer from the fate of a coin toss, then go on to lose without an opportunity for their beloved offense to step up.

No overtime system will ever be perfect. But it can be amended to at least become more balanced.

Charles Jaegle is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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