Jens 'n' Frens
Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

"A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures."
  -- Daniel Webster

Wednesday, March 24, 2010 :::

The NFL has changed its overtime rule for the playoffs; instead of a straight sudden-death format, if the team to receive the opening kickoff scores a field goal on its opening possession, the other team gets a possession. The primary motivation for the change was the fact that winners of the opening coin toss for the overtime period have won 59.8% of the overtime games since the kickoff was moved from the 35 to the 30 yard line 16 years ago.

My thoughts on the new format:
  1. I don't hate it. In particular, I think this is a lot better than the college football "overtime", which I still insist resembles football the way miniature golf resembles golf.
  2. I understand that, particularly in the playoffs, it is necessary that one team win, and people have ingrained senses of fairness. That said, if two teams have played to 24-24 in regulation, any overtime mechanism will not primarily be a function of which team is playing better that day; it will be a function of some form of luck. If the objection is that the winner of the game was being determined by a coin toss, I would like some acknowledgement that it is now to be determined by a much more ornate equivalent.
  3. In particular, is a 3-2 odds advantage really that big a deal? Even if the coin toss winner wins 59.8% of the time, a lot more luck is coming from the field than from the coin toss.
  4. Why does everything the NFL does have to end up so baroque? The obvious solution, I would think, is not to do a coin toss; have the team with the ball at the end of regulation proceed with its drive. If you had to score a last minute touchdown to tie the game, you should be at a disadvantage in overtime. If there's a pronounced advantage to having one end zone or the other, there may be some difficulty in determining who ought to get which end zone, but even that doesn't bother me terribly much, in part because it's not likely to be a big factor in many games, in part because of the previous point that luck will determine the game anyway, and in part because it's knowable ahead of time:
  5. NCAA fencing includes an overtime period that begins with a coin toss; if the overtime period ends in a tie, the winner of the coin toss is declared the winner. The idea is that a player who has been given the disadvantage knows about it in time to play more aggressively; the other player, with an effective half-point advantage, will play a little bit more defensively, insofar as a half-point advantage can be held. One way to do this in the NFL would be to have a coin toss at half time that would govern the overtime period. Another would be to declare as the winner of the OT coin toss whichever team lost the opening coin toss. You could just give it to the visiting team (though that doesn't work in the Super Bowl). In all cases the team that is down three with a few minutes left can take account of the fact that it needs to be a little bit more aggressive, or that, if it plays for the tie in regulation, it has slightly better odds in overtime.
  6. I really think they should drop overtime altogether for the regular season. Recording the result as a tie in the standings is a more accurate depiction of what happened than pretending it's a win or a loss by either team.


::: posted by dWj at 10:27 AM

Point 4 was my first thought. Most of football's rules seem to be special cases designed to this or that end; more fundamental restructuring of the game to align it with a goal never seems to occur to anyone, we just see special case patched onto special case.

I agree that this is not as bad as college football, but I'd at least like clarification regarding these two scenarios:

1. Team A wins the toss. Team B kicks the ball and recovers onside. I know the old Arena Football League did not consider this to give each team a chance with the ball, and this seems most reasonable to me, as the receiving team never actually has possession. But it could be unclear.

2. Similarly, suppose the ball is fumbled by the team that receives the opening kick-off. The other team recovers, runs a few yards (i.e., clearly establishes possession), and fumbles it back. Have both teams had their chance? Or does each team have to end a play with possession, or have possession with their offense on the field?

BTW, one team or the other is designated the visitor at the Super Bowl. I believe this determines who calls the coin toss; it might affect uniforms as well, but I'm not sure.
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Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

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