Related: From March 2 — The NFL has to take conservative overtime proposal several steps further
In a mild surprise, NFL owners have voted in favour of changing the league’s overtime format. But under the new circumstances, there’s a decent chance we won’t actually witness the new system for a year or two.
That’s because, for now, the new rules will only apply to the playoffs. This, of course, is not a surprise. The proposal on the table at the league meetings in Orlando was always strictly limited to the postseason, presumably because advocates of change felt it would be easier to compel fence-sitters by only altering the format for 11 games a year.
(It should be noted that the owners are expected to at least discuss adopting the new format for the regular season when they meet again in May, but it’s very unlikely that even gets to a vote this offseason.)
The only problem is that only changing the policy for the playoffs makes no sense.
Coaches have expressed concern that the new format will drastically change how they’ll have to approach the end of close games. Strategizing under the new format, they say, is completely different. And they’re right. They’ll have to weigh whether to push with one minute on the clock or to take their chances in a more balanced overtime. Do you throw up a Hail Mary? Do you attempt a 53-yard field goal? It all changes.
Making this change for only the postseason forces coaches to undergo this new thinking process for the very first time in the biggest game they’ll have played all season … maybe even in the Super Bowl itself. What if the first-ever “modified sudden-death” game is Super Bowl XLV? How’s a coach going to feel about having no previous opportunities to get acclimated to the new format and new strategies before the biggest game of his life?
This is a major change for the NFL, which hasn’t altered its overtime format in over 50 years. Why introduce such a crucial change in the most crucial games? Let teams and coaches get used to the system in the regular season, when there’s less pressure and less of a chance to spark a hefty controversy if things don’t go right.
When have you ever seen a new, ground-breaking rule implemented first to the biggest games of the year, rather than meaningless exhibition affairs? The whole thing is ass-backwards.
Here’s why the NFL has done it this way:
1) The league doesn’t want to piss off television networks by extending regular-season games. They already have enough problems with 1:00 ET games going too long and interrupting the start of 4:05 ET games each Sunday. CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN have paid a combined $20.4 billion dollars for the right to air NFL games, the majority of which are smashed together tightly on 17 jam-packed Sundays each fall.
2) The league is admitting that this format is fairer. There’s no other way around it. If there was any concern about the justness of the change, they’d never apply it to only the most important 11 games of the year. After the Minnesota Vikings lost the NFC championship game last year on a one-possession field goal in overtime, the owners are clearly afraid of the potential backlash of a Super Bowl being decided the same way.
Potential for marathons
Technically, the new format will convert to sudden death as soon as the first possession is over (assuming the first team to get the ball doesn’t score a touchdown to win it outright). But what if the first two possessions result in field goals for each squad? Suddenly, you’ve had probably 20 real-time minutes tick off the clock, and you’re only beginning the sudden death part of overtime.
This could end up being the norm. A field goal for each team is pretty common. That means we could have a lot of games dragging on for up to 30 or 40 real-time minutes. In the playoffs, that’s not a concern. In the regular season, it’s a huge problem, especially when you consider that — in the midst of negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement — players will claim that they aren’t being paid for the extra time they’re putting in beyond the first score of the overtime session.
Potential for ties
Again, this isn’t a problem in the playoffs. But in the regular season, the chances of a game ending in a tie would probably be increased. And since I’ve yet to meet anyone who remotely likes ties, that can’t be a good thing.
The only way around this would be for the league to do away with ties and remove the game clock from overtime entirely. That, however, would just be another way to infuriate the networks.
What took you so long?
This all begs the question: What took the owners so long to come around? Naturally, you’d assume it had to do with the end to that Vikings-Saints game in January, where a big penalty and some controversial plays essentially landed the coin-toss winners in field goal territory, setting up an easy game-winner. But here’s what commissioner Roger Goodell had to say less than two weeks after that game:
“We spent an awful lot of time looking at our overtime rule and tweaking it and trying to come up with something that we thought was better. And frankly, in discussions with the players, the coaches, and all of the clubs, we haven’t been able to find a better solution … don’t hold your breath.”
So I find myself asking two conflicting questions: How’d this take so long? And how’d such a sudden change of thinking come about?
“The proposal was really an improvement on the current system,” said competition committee co-chairman Rich McKay. “I don’t think it was necessarily driven by the Minnesota game at all.”
But a chimp could have come up with this proposal. Are you telling me it took half a century for someone to pitch this change? I don’t buy it.
Something — probably the overwhelming stats – probably finally convinced Goodell that a change was necessary. And although it was believed that a significant number of owners were opposed to change, once the commish is on board, it’s easy to be swayed.
I’m wondering if the owners were encouraged to vote together on issues such as this one in order to display a sense of togetherness and continuity as they prepare to butt heads with the players association regarding the labour strife.
To accept or to decline
That is the question now. Suddenly, winning the coin toss to start overtime is hardly an advantage. Offensive-minded teams/coaches will probably want the ball, confident they can score six to win it. But defensive teams might like their chances to make a stop while only needing a field goal for the victory.
This will be interesting.