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Nobody Will Ever Be Happy About NFL’s Overtime

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On NBC's Sunday night coverage of the Bears-Eagles game, Bob Costas took some minutes during halftime, as well as after the game, to rail against the NFL's overtime rules. He even asked fellow NBC deskmate Tony Dungy about it, transitioning from the actual game at hand.

"The coin flip is too random… doesn't seem fair to me," Costas summarized, even noting to Dungy that the last game he ever coached was an overtime loss in the playoffs, perhaps because the other team won the toss. But the former Colts coach didn't bite, ultimately saying he liked the rule the way it is.

On this week's Treehouse Fort I mentioned how the opposition to the BCS was strong, yet their detractors don't have much agreement of their own. How many teams should get in? Do you take four? Eight? 16? And how do you select them — via a poll, or do you invite each conference winner? There are many great choices, but a single solution doesn't rise above the rest. In fact, I'm pretty sure the BCS is sneaky enough to float so many new playoff ideas out there that it confuses the masses. This also supports my unsubstantiated theory that the Ralph Nader campaign was a product of the Republican Party.

Likewise, you could tweak the NFL overtime rules … but how? Do you eliminate field goals? What about playing a complete 5-minute or 10-minute bonus period? Or how about adopting the college football rules? People seem to like those. Or just turn it into a Punt, Pass & Kick competition. That way, when kids participate in those, they can pretend they're beating Tony Dungy in the playoffs.

Aside: How did the NFL decide on those three skills for children? Passing I understand, but punters and kickers are the runts of any NFL team. What about catching? How about running the ball through a tire course? The punting and kicking makes sense because there's a low chance of injury, plus even scrawny 11-year-olds and girls can do it. So why not just make it a kicking competition? Practice kickoffs, free kicks, and drop kicks. Then practice standing around during most of the game and hopping on a larger kid to celebrate.

The league has always conceded that the advantage goes to the team that wins the overtime coin toss. But Roger Goodell once mentioned in an interview how that should force teams to try harder during regulation. It was a great point. But it was such a poignant fact that it completely escaped me prior to him saying it, which leads me to believe not every football player really has that mindset. They probably think, "ah, oh well, we'll get 'em in overtime." Only they're football players, so there's likely to be more motivational expletives in there.

Personally I love college football's overtime format. Each team gets the ball 25 yards from the end zone, and if they're still tied after one possession each, they do it again. After so long, they outlaw extra points, resulting in an even more volatile and Rollerball-style demand to finish the game, because by the time you get to three overtimes, it's getting ridiculous. It's a relatively new adoption in college football, coming into play two years before the BCS. And it's proved to be insanely fun for all involved. (Except for perhaps the loser, but even then I'd like to think they enjoyed themselves.)

It just doesn't fit the NFL's identity, which is all about attrition and urgency. Even if they start farther back from, say, the 35-yard line, it becomes a gimmicky, contrived way of deciding a game, which is what many people already consider the current overtime rule. So why do anything at all?

A much-repeated stat says the winner of the coin flip in an NFL overtime game wins 60 percent of the time. In college, this year the team that won the coin toss is actually 10-11. (Unconventional logic! Play offense first!) I started going through the 2008 games before I realized the numbers would perpetually hover near 50-50, just like a coin flip.

The current overtime system in the NFL doesn't give each team a fair chance to win. Well, yeah. That's what the actual game is for. So let's just flip a coin to see who wins, because, Christ, it's zero degrees outside. That's fair for everyone.

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