Posted by: Frank | January 8, 2011

Stupid NFL Overtime Rule Change

I am sad to see that the NFL is following the NHL’s lead by changing the rules of the game during the playoffs. I don’t think it’s right that the NHL changes from a five minute period of 4×4 sudden death hockey, followed by a shoot out in the regular season, and then changes to a full 20 minute period of 5×5 sudden death hockey in the playoffs. If an NHL game ends regulation in a tie, both teams earn a point in the standings, so the overtime activity is for an extra point.  Before introducing the current rules, tie NHL games played a 20 minute period of 5×5 sudden death hockey for a win, and if no one scores after the overtime period the game ends and both teams are given a point.

In the old NHL system, both teams earn a point only if the game actually ends in a tie, in the new system both teams earn a point when regulation ends, regardless of a winner. My problem is that teams are artificially earning points during the regular season that enables them to make the playoffs, and it is possible that a team that gets in wouldn’t under the old format, while a team that doesn’t get in might.

The NFL’s approach to overtime is one of the more controversial aspects of the game because it often comes down to a coin toss. Overtime consists of a regular period of time of sudden death football. The result is that the team that wins the coin toss can win the game by getting the ball first and kicking a field goal, and the opposing team never gets a chance to score. In my opinion, the NFL’s approach worked in a time when field goal kickers couldn’t reliably kick field goals at distances of 40 yards or more, but field goal kickers have gotten so much better from long distances that it doesn’t take much for a team to win a game in overtime.

What exposes the NFL’s overtime approach is that it is significantly different than how college and high school football decides overtime. In college, each team is guaranteed at least one possession of the ball at the opposing team’s 20 yard line. The coin toss is simply for who goes on offense first. If the team that goes on defense first scores more points in the overtime session than the opposing team, it wins the game. They continue playing overtime “periods” until there is a winner, but after the first period both teams must go for a two point conversion after scoring a touchdown. The college approach adds an element of fairness because it gives both teams a chance, and it adds intrigue because of the number of different decisions a coach has to make. If your team goes on offense first, you want to score a touchdown first to insure you cannot lose, yet want to score at least a field goal so that your defense doesn’t have to completely shut out the opposing team. If the team that goes on defense first can score a touchdown with the potential to tie the game with a one point kick, or they could try a 2 point conversion to win the game.

In my opinion the NFL should just decide all of its overtime games, regular season and playoffs, like college does, and I don’t understand why they don’t. A second option that would work, in my opinion, is that they don’t allow any field goals in over time; make the teams score touchdowns to win in overtime. Instead, what the NFL has done is keep the old rule in place during the regular season, but change the rules in the playoffs. This year for the playoffs in overtime both teams are guaranteed a possession in overtime. So if the team that wins the coin toss kicks a field goal, the game is not over, the opposing team will get the ball and can again tie it with a field goal, or win with a touchdown, and if they don’t score the game is over.

The NFL’s new approach to overtime isn’t as bad as the NHL’s, but I don’t like the trend towards altering rules between the regular season and playoffs. In my opinion the integrity of a sport is diminished when the rules are altered within a season. The problem isn’t as bad for the NFL because the number of overtime games is much fewer than for the NHL, but still, I don’t think it is right. Who is to say that teams that make it to the playoffs in the NHL under it’s current overtime rules would make it to the playoffs if the playoff overtime rules were used all year? There are that many overtimes and standings are that close in the NHL that it can, and I think does, make a difference.

Rules for sports should only be altered between seasons so that the game is the same for all teams within a season. The NHL goes too far in my opinion in altering the rules of the game between regular season and playoffs, and the NFL, which is the best professional sport in the U.S., would be smart to not follow the NHL’s lead. The best outcome after this year is that the NFL adopts the new “playoff” overtime rules for the regular season.



  1. Good job, NFL. Change OT rules and the Broncos-Steelers game STILL ends on the first drive.

    How about one extra 15-minute period (okay, I’ll take 10 minutes) and call it a day?

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