It's Well Past Time to Fix NFL Overtime

Steven RoseContributor INovember 19, 2008

It has been 50 years since "The Greatest Game Ever Played" between the Colts and Giants ushered in the overtime era. In that time, there have been many great overtime contests, like the Week 11 thriller between the Patriots and Jets. Then you have clunkers like the Eagles-Bengals tie.

While the Bengals and Eagles, particularly Donovan McNabb, should be ashamed of their performance, the league should be ashamed, too, about the way the Pat-Jets game ended. Jet fans were understandably excited, but everyone else had to watch another overtime game decided as much by a coin flip as the action on the field.

The Jets-Pats game, like many before it, ended with one team never even getting a chance to touch the ball. The Jets simply drove down the field and kicked an easy field goal for the win. It was a pretty anticlimactic ending to a fantastic game.

One of these days, the inane rule that enabled such an ending to the Pats-Jets game will mar a potentially epic Super Bowl. However, there is an easy fix. All the league has to do is ensure that each gets one possession of the ball, and I don't mean they should adopt the college system. 

Here's how it would work:

—Overtime would still be 15 minutes, the coin-flip would still determine the opening possession and the kickoff would be the same.

—The change would be that each team would get at least one possession of the ball, and I don't mean one drive. For example, the receiving team fumbles the kickoff and the kicking team returns the fumble for a touchdown, game over. The receiving team had its chance with the ball and lost it, only they lost it really quickly.

—After each team has the ball once, it's sudden death. In the above scenario, if the kicking team recovers a fumble on the kickoff and then kicks a field goal, the game would be over. Again, each team had one possession.

It's a simple change with huge benefits.

First, it removes the inherent unfairness of the current setup, at least in the perception of fans. When your team never even touches the ball in overtime, you feel ripped off. No other sport works this way—why should the NFL?

Second, it dramatically changes the coaching strategy for overtime and makes it more exciting. If the initial receiving team puts together a decent drive, they have to go for the touchdown. No more playing for a field goal since now that could cost you the game. It may even make receiving the ball first a less-desirable strategy, especially for teams with poor offenses.

The only major downside is that you may see more ties if both teams score once but neither can score again, but honestly, so what? The benefits of such a system so outweigh the downside that it really is a no-brainer to make such a switch.

What's amazing is that a league whose success is a result of its ability to innovate and change with the times cannot fix a such a flawed rule. After 50 years, it's time for the NFL to usher in a new overtime era that makes more sense.