Barstool Debate: What’s the best way to revamp the NFL overtime system?

I was reading ESPN The Magazine today, and in their New Year, New Rules issue, Peter Keating suggests a few ways to improve the NFL’s rules for overtime.

I thought I’d pull in our NFL guru, Anthony Stalter, and kick a few of these around. I have a personal favorite that wasn’t on Keating’s list that we’ll discuss at the end.

John Paulsen: All right, Anthony. Keating writes that there are three rules to overtime: 1) it “should preserve the essential character of a sport while moving games toward conclusive results,” 2) it should be fair, and 3) it should be fun. The current overtime system in the NFL isn’t fair, and I’d argue that it isn’t fun either. Although my beloved Packers lost in OT after winning the coin flip, 72% of teams that won the flip last season went on to win the game. That’s not fair. And if it’s not fair, then it’s not fun, either. Keating’s first suggestion is the divide-and-choose method. The winner of the coin toss picks the yard line at which the ball would be placed (say, the 25-yard line) and the other would decide who gets the ball. The first team to score wins the game. What do you think?

Anthony Stalter: I fail to see how this is a major improvement over the system that is currently in place. It still puts too much emphasis on a coin flip and besides, I think we’d see the ball being placed on the 20-yard line more times than not. A team wouldn’t want to start backed up to its own goal line and wouldn’t want another team to start close to midfield. So the ball would likely be placed at the 20 and thus, all you’re really doing is eliminating the kickoff. And if we were just eliminating the kickoff, teams would still want the ball first and therefore, hate winning the coin toss.

JP: While I don’t think it’s ideal, I do think it’s an improvement. If Team A wins the toss and they have a better offense than they do a defense, then they’ll likely pick a yard line inside the 20 to discourage the other team from taking the ball. If Team A has a good defense, they may pick the 30-yard line figuring that they’ll still be able to get the stop if the other team takes the ball. Anyway, let’s move on. The second format Keating discusses is an auction. “Imagine an auction that counts up from the 1-yard line, to the 2, the 3, etc … The team willing to take possession closest to its own goal line gets the ball at that spot, and then the game is decided by sudden death … The auction process wouldn’t take much longer than the coin toss and would be far more interesting.” Thoughts?

AS: I feel that I’m going to get sidetracked with this, but bear with me. I agree that this process won’t take much longer than a coin toss and would be more fun. But this topic unveils an interesting underlying debate between keeping traditions intact and making the NFL the ultimate spectator sport. For example, the Packers-Cardinals Wildcard game was thrilling from a spectator standpoint. But it wasn’t a “great” football game like some are suggesting. High scores and no defense doesn’t mean the game was great. So does holding an auction at midfield before overtime mean a better game or better entertainment? I’d argue the latter and therefore, I’m hesitant to chuck the coin toss in favor of something like this, even though the spectator in me would enjoy watching it play out.

JP: I think Keating’s point is that it would be much more fair than the current system as well as entertaining, and I agree. But it’s still not my favorite. It would take a few minutes to explain the auction format and to conduct it, and I think the game should move on as quickly as possible to overtime. Let’s move on to his third suggestion, which he calls the “simplest fix of all.” It’s from AF2, the surviving cousin of Arena Football. “Each team gets one possession, then the game is played to sudden death. That gives both squads a chance in OT while also giving coaches more strategic decisions to make: Do we try a long field goal and risk giving the other team the ball near mid-field, or do we punt and play for sudden death?” I think this format has the same problem as the current format. Whoever gets the ball first in sudden death has the advantage. Keating doesn’t really address this. What do you think?

AS: I agree. If one of our goals is to make things fair on both sides, then you have to eliminate as much advantage as possible. Besides, why borrow this idea from the Arena League when the college football OT works just as well and is fairer. Both teams get the same amount of offensive possessions to try and score, plus the entertainment value is upgraded from the sudden death format. College overtimes are exciting and the system isn’t hard to explain. I’ll be honest: I don’t like the auction idea because it has little or nothing to do with football. This might sound stupid because it’s all entertainment in the end, but I don’t want a slice of game show with my football. I think the game is exciting enough as it is, which is why I’m fine with the NFL leaving the sudden death rules in place, or adopting the college OT rules. They’re simple, easy and they stick with the tradition of the game.

JP: I have to disagree. While the college football overtime format is entertaining, having alternating possessions from the 25-yard line breaks Keating’s “preserving the essential character of a sport” rule because it leads to outrageous scores and stats. And these scores and stats count in the record books! Can you imagine what this would do to fantasy football? Here’s a suggestion I heard a while back and I think it makes a lot of sense. Hold a quick and painless blind auction. Each coach hands a card to the lead official with the yard line at which he is willing to take the ball. Whoever picks the yard line closest to his own goal line gets the ball. Ties go to the home team. (That’s home field advantage, baby.) Proceed with a sudden death overtime. I like this format because it’s fair (both teams have an equal shot at the ball), it’s strategic (bids will vary depending on the strengths and weaknesses of each team), it preserves the essential character of the sport (a drive will win the game, not the ability to score from the opponent’s 25-yard line), and it’s fun (coaches will be second-guessed for not taking the ball or for taking it too close to their own goal line). Not only should the NFL adopt this format, but college football should as well.

AS: I hadn’t thought about how those stats count against the records – good point. As long as the blind auction is done quickly (which I don’t see why it wouldn’t), then I’m all for it. There’s a little bit of strategy involved, both teams have a fair shot of getting the ball first and as you pointed out – it makes a team drive the length of the field to score, thus earning the points they get. Plus, it doesn’t alter the game too much, which is what my point was above talking about Keating’s auction. Let’s do it!

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