A solution for overtime in the NFL


I can’t stand it any more.

All of these people with their each team needs a possession and desire for fairness crap. It sounds so wonderful in theory. Well… truth be told, not keeping score when young kids play sports sounds good too… in theory.

Welcome to reality. And the trouble is, the reality is much more complex.

The reality is that there is one decision to make... and it has already been made. After that, I think the rest is common sense. And from that, my solution. Let’s start with a short story…

A few years ago I was listening to a radio program, and a head coach was on. I forget what city the station was in, and couldn’t tell you the head coach involved if I tried. But the basic point I recall taking from one segment of the interview was that most coaches don’t like overtime at all. And the reasons are simple to understand.

When you get to overtime, you begin doing things you wouldn’t normally do. Part of it is the sudden death nature of first-team-to-score. But another part is that you seldom plan for overtime. And I mean that in a very simple way. For example, you are asking players to go beyond the 60-minutes they had been conditioned to play. Tired players are, as this coach explained, in his opinion more likely to get injured.

That injury idea… it does create some problems…and it is at the heart of creating the decision I referred to...

Perhaps regular season overtime isn’t worth it. Let’s conduct a study on something no one is mentioning… injuries. Hold on… hold on… I know the concept of injuries in overtime has been mentioned many times. Heck, I just told you I heard about it during an interview. And I’ll bet you’ve heard about increased injuries being an overtime concern many times as well. So ok… I’m not actuallty conducting a study here... I’m asking... if we all know injuries are a concern for tired players, where are the numbers? Have you seen anyone do any research into this? I keep seeing all these studies about which team scores first and how coin flips decide games and such. Has anyone conducted a study on overtime injury rates? Do players get hurt more often when asked to play extra time?

I think this is worth noting. I think it’s worth looking into. I’m not going to do it though… because for this little essay, it’s the thought that counts. Why? Because if injuries are more likely to happen in overtime, then maybe calling it a day and ending things after four quarters is the best solution of all.

It’s a tie.

Game over.

End of discussion.

Oh… wait… problem with that. See… the NFL needs overtime… they sort of need extra work to not be a factor in injuries. Which is one reason you might not see too many people asking about it.


Well, for one reason, the season is so short. A tie in the standings isn’t helpful when the results are based on just 16 games. In a very quick look over the 2009 schedule, I counted 13 overtime games during the regular season. And would you believe that 3 of them involved Pittsburgh? Quick… what happens to the Steelers and their place in the standings if 9-7 becomes 8-5-3? See? Starts to become fun.

Then there’s another pesky part recognizing the injury problem. See… if the NFL acknowledges that injuries are more likely by playing overtime, we suddenly have a real argument against expanding the season to 18 games. And we can’t have that.

The end result of these factors alone… standings becoming a potential nightmare and a desire to extend the schedule… essentially means that eliminating regular season overtime isn’t an option.

The NFL wants overtime. The NFL will not eliminate regular season overtime.

Summary… we’re playing overtime.

Now I know that doesn’t surprise you. After all, I haven’t heard anyone asking for overtime to be eliminated. But I do believe it’s important to have that decided and out of the way. Because once you have agreed to play overtime, if you really want fairness, I think my suggestion is the best. And it’s really simple.

Just play a complete extra quarter. 15 minutes… beginning to end. No alternating possessions. No catch-me-if-you-can match the scoring or end it.

Play t he whole thing.

The average NFL game consists of approximately 120-130 plays, with each play lasting roughly 6-7 seconds from beginning to end. Do the math and you’ll hit roughly 15 minutes of actual play out of 60 minutes of game time.

I have heard suggestion involving giving each team one possession. Well... ok... if both offenses are going on the field, we’re looking at more than halfof a quarter of play. Finishing out the full period isn’t that much more at that point. And during the regular season, if tied after a fifth period, then add it to the standings as a tie.

The real beauty of the plan is found in the playoffs.

In the postseason, I suggest you play until the score isn’t tied at the end of a quarter, and if it is tied you play it exactly like it’s a true game. So after one overtime period, a team wouldn’t have to give up possession of the ball. After the second overtime period, there is a break and the team that kicked off for overtime receives a kick to start the third overtime period.

Most importantly… the game doesn’t end just because someone scores. And it doesn’t become a competition of matching points. Heck… if you can go on a 15-minute drive and kick a field goal to win it without the other team taking possession, more power to you.

The Minnesota against New Orleans game? If New Orleans gets the ball first and can sustain a 10-minute scoring drive for a field goal… awesome. Under my plan, after the field goal Minnesota gets the ball. They have 5 minutes to score a touchdown or kick a field goal. If they get stopped quickly, maybe they punt and hope to get a defensive stand and one last crack at a game tying field goal. Or perhaps they end up facing third and 9 on the 11-yard line with just 10 seconds remaining… and deciding to go for the win or send the playoff game to a second overtime period.

In short… strategy is back in play. Strategy that involves structure and clock management… two of the most important aspects of the game.

So there’s my solution. When it comes to overtime… play or don’t play. If you’re going to have it… and the NFL is going to have it… then commit to it fully if you want fairness. Don’t turn it into a game of alternating possessions. Keep the clock involved. Play a full extra period.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com