NFL Overtime Is Overdue for a Change

Tim DrozinskiContributor IJanuary 25, 2010

NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 24:  Kicker Garrett Hartley #5 of the New Orleans Saints is mobbed by teammates after hitting a gaming winning field goal in overtime against the Minnesota Vikings to win the NFC Championship Game at the Louisiana Superdome on January 24, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images)
Michael Heiman/Getty Images

So, like many fans and even some owners and league personnel, I'm not a huge fan of the sudden death overtime format used in the NFL. There's just nothing all that exciting to me about a team moving the ball thirty yards or so and then kicking a field goal.

It's anti-climactic, especially in a game that for the first sixty minutes, obviously had some kind of excitement, whether it was a gritty, low-scoring defensive battle, a score-for-score shootout, or a thrilling come-from-behind effort to tie the game up in the closing seconds of regulation.

What can't be disputed are the following facts: the perception is that most of the time, overtime comes down to who wins the coin flip, and the reality is that, statistically, the odds are only marginally in favor of the first team to possess the ball.

Some suggestions that have been offered up as a solution include adopting the college rules for an overtime procedure, giving each team an offensive series and repeating the procedure until one team finally outscores the other.  

Some prefer simply adding a fifth quarter and potentially a sixth, seventh or more in a playoff or championship game, where a tie simply isn't going to work.

Still others have proposed a modification of the current sudden death system that ensures that each team has at least one offensive series, so that the debated advantage of the coin flip is negated.

If Team A kicks a field goal on the opening possession, but Team B can score a touchdown on the subsequent series, it's clear who the winner is. This solution at least would encourage more teams to try to score a touchdown on that opening drive of overtime rather than get close enough for a field goal.

I think if anything would work (and be better than any of those), it would be to just play out an additional quarter, but with a "mercy rule" where if one team gets up by nine or more points, the game is over. I chose nine points because if one team can accomplish one of the following, they'd have proven that they are the clear victors:


  • Score two consecutive and unanswered touchdowns (with or without extra point tries)
  • Score three consecutive and unanswered field goals
  • Score a touchdown, with or without the extra point, and a field goal without the other team scoring in the meantime
  • Score a touchdown, extra point, and a safety without the other team scoring in the meantime

Of course, overtime in any form is not without some negative impacts on the game.  The downsides of any overtime rules that would potentially extend the length of the game would be the fatigue on the players as the season wears on, coupled with the greater chances for injuries that come as a result of not just being on the field longer, but also because players tend to get injured more when they're tired and fatigued.

If NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is serious about extending the number of regular season games, that would make the fatigue and injury concerns worse, unless they also allowed teams to expand the roster and carry additional backups.

One counter to that concern is to say that, out of the current 256 regular season games, relatively few of them go to overtime. Every team tends to get one or two overtime games a season at most And most teams go through a whole season without going into overtime at all.  So the cumulative effect could arguably be insignificant.

Another thing that might have to be considered is that televised games where there's a much greater chance of an early game running long because many OT games would likely go the full 15 minutes would tend to upset a lot of people wanting to see the later games, so maybe they would have to accommodate that by moving the TV time slots to compensate. For example, move 1 p.m. games to 12:30 p.m. and/or 4 p.m. games to 4:30 p.m.

I suspect sports bars would love it because it would let them turn over their clientele more smoothly between games without people feeling rushed to leave after their game is over or having to wait to be seated because the earlier crowd isn't leaving. It's doubtful that the league would consider shifting the schedules, or simply delaying the later games if and only if there's an earlier game in OT that would impact a TV market.

If you have any ideas on overhauling overtime, sound off in the comments section, I'm interested to hear what people think.