Saturday, February 5, 2011

This is really dumb and you're going to hear about it

Is everyone familiar with the new OT rules for NFL playoff games?

Yes? You are? Good. Then you won't need to read this:

It used to be that the first team to score in the extra period won the game, no matter what.

Now, if Team A wins the coin toss, gets the opening kickoff and scores a touchdown, it wins the game. But if Team A kicks a field goal, Team B gets a possession. If Team B also kicks a field goal, tying the score, the game continues, and the next points scored by either team earns a victory; if Team B scores a touchdown, it wins; and if Team B doesn’t score on its first possession, Team A wins.

A safety at any point ends things.

This is a dumb change to the rules, not because it's ruining something that was good, but rather because it's failing to solve something that was bad.

It used to be that whoever scored first during OT won the game. Stats showed that the team winning the coin flip had a disproportionate chance of scoring first, and therefore luck had a ton of influence deciding the contest. The other issue that was problematic was the "short field" nature of sudden death OT. If any points will win the game, then a team really only needed to drive to inside of the 30-yard line and kick the field goal. Not only did the loser of the coin flip have no guarantee of a possession, but they also had a much shorter field to defend.

What the new rule does is delay these problems of fairness. Yes, it sort of tempers the effectiveness of a FG, but let's assume that both teams kick 3 points. In that case, the rules would just revert to how they used to be, with the lucky winner of the coin flip getting the ball, and the other team unable to answer back, should they allow another FG. Again, too much reliance on a coin.

Now the reasoning behind sudden death OT is to protect players' health. They've just done battle for 60 minutes, and it's unfair to ask them to burn it for another 15 minutes, or however long they have to go. This is especially true in the regular season when they'll be facing a slightly better rested opponent the following week. Fair enough.

So let's consider two fixes to overtime that would keep things fair from a competitive standpoint, and also preserve players somewhat.

1) The Kansas Overtime model.

NCAA football has gotten one thing right, and that's the shootout for solving overtime. Basically, you flip a coin to decide who goes first; in going first, there is no competitive advantage, it's simply like sides of an inning in baseball. The team with the ball starts their drive on THEIR OPPONENT'S 25-yard line, well within scoring range. The possession continues until a score or turnover. Then the opponent gets the same chance from the opposite side of the field. If both teams are able to consistently score 7 points on each other, the rules can be modified to require 2-point conversions.

The NCAA cannot allow for ties in their standings, so this model is used to ensure that there is always a winner. It's also not TOO stressful on the players, what with the abridged field. I would say for the NFL's regular season, this would be a good model, with the potential for a tie built in if nothing is settled after 3 possessions, each way.

2) The play-some-football model.

All that stuff I was saying about player safety and stamina is important... but maybe less so in the Super Bowl. Therefore, why not introduce two mini-halves as overtime? Kick the ball off to a team, and start the game clock at 5 minutes. Then, at the end of those 5 minutes, the other team receives the kickoff to begin the second, 5 minute OT half. I don't know what you do if after 70 minutes, everything is still tied, but I assume you play another 10. And so on. It's the Super Bowl. It would be awesome entertainment. Player health would not be THAT endangered, considering they'd have an entire off-season to rest.

The main advantage to this model is use of the whole field. It adds pressure, without changing the playbook. It also returns emphasis to the game clock, which is a defining aspect of football. It wouldn't be enough to score and defend, a team would also then have to protect the ball until time expired.

More than anything, the key to fixing overtime is synthesizing the competitive balance of regulation rules. In regulation the coin toss doesn't mean THAT much, because both teams still get equal time on one side of the field, and both teams get to be on the receiving end of a kickoff. When a team is granted something that the other team isn't, and it's a result of a 50/50 proposition, then you have trouble.

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