The NFL's competition committee will submit what it's calling a "modified sudden death" proposal to owners at next week's league meetings in Orlando, and it 75 percent of the teams approve the new plan, overtime rules will be changed for next year's playoffs and Super Bowl. Under the proposed change, the team that possesses the ball first in overtime could still win the game on its first possession -- but only if it scores a touchdown. If the team that gets the ball first kicks a field goal on its first possession, it would then have to kick off, and the opposing team would get a chance to tie or win the game. If that team then kicks a field goal to tie the game, the format reverts to sudden death from that point.
"In the past, people have been quick to say that our system works very well and so why would we change it?" competition committee co-chair Rich McKay said on a conference call Wednesday morning. "And that's always been a blocking point to change. In this case, we just try to make a statistical argument that the time has come to change and to innovate a little bit. It's pretty clear there's been a change."
Now, McKay has numbers that he says indicate otherwise. He says that from 1974 (when sudden-death overtime was adopted) through 1993 (the last year before they moved the kickoff), teams winning the overtime coin toss won 46.8 percent of overtime games, and teams losing the coin toss also won 46.8 percent. McKay says that from 1994 through 2009, teams winning the coin toss won 59.8 percent of overtime games, and teams losing the coin toss won 38.5 percent. Additionally, he says that the team winning the coin toss won the game with a first-possession field goal 17.9 percent of the time from 1974 to 1993 and that from 1994 through 2009, that number was 26.2 percent.
My question is: So what? Overtime is a tiebreaker. You're supposed to win the game in regulation. If you don't, you know for a fact they're going to flip a coin and decide who gets the ball first for sudden-death overtime. This provides incentive to win the game in regulation. Critics of overtime point to this year's NFC Championship game, which is ridiculous. The Vikings had 16,000 chances to win that game in regulation. When they didn't, they knew exactly what would happen as a result. Nobody sprung some crazy new rule on them when the game ended.
The motivation for this change appears to be that kickers have become too good. McKay cited changes in field position (as a result of the 1994 kickoff rule change) and improved accuracy of kickers as the reason overtime has become too slanted toward the team that wins the toss. This indicates that the league would rather have its overtime games decided by plays from scrimmage than in the kicking game, though when asked that question directly McKay didn't say yes.
"The kicking game has become, and the field goal accuracy has become, exceptional," McKay said. "Accordingly, you now have a situation where, if you have a great return or one long platy from scrimmage, you're in field goal range and the game is over. And in our mind, that probably wouldn't have happened prior to 1993 as much."
McKay also said the current system gives an advantage to teams that construct their rosters to include kickoff specialists and return specialists. Goodness, no! Does he mean to say teams aren't allowed to employ certain players that might give them an advantage on special teams, just because other teams might decide not to?
What's next? A rule to de-emphasize passing plays because they favor teams that have really good quarterbacks?
This sounds like people with too much time on their hands. And frankly, the "solution" they've proposed to this "problem" is silly. The game can still end without each team getting a chance to touch the ball -- especially if one of those dastardly speedy return men takes the overtime kickoff all the way back to the end zone. All they've done is come out and say field goals are a bad way to end a game. If that's the case, why have kicking at all?
McKay's stats show the game has changed. Big deal. If they enact this new rule, teams are going to scheme and plan and find ways to beat it. That's the way it goes. NFL overtime is fine as a tiebreaker, and the NFL really should leave it alone. At least until they come up with something obviously better. Which this is not.