A Little Rant on Why to Leave OT Rules Alone

Activity is starting to ramp up at the NFL Combine, although by activity I mean only talking. College players and team officials have begun their interviews today and there is some testing, but the 40-yard dashes, three-cones and 225-pound benches don't start until Saturday.

For the Jets, head coach Rex Ryan is scheduled to take the podium inside Lucas Oil Stadium at 11 a.m. Friday, with GM Mike Tannenbaum set to follow at 11:45 a.m.

But one headline today, over an Associated Press story in USA Today, raised my eye and sent a chill down my spine: "NFL's Competition Committee May Reconsider OT Rules."

Upon further review, the headline didn't provide all the answers. The committee, which met in Indy on Wednesday, wouldn't consider any changes in overtime rules until 2010 at the earliest. Further, there may be some fan sentiment to alter the league's OT procedures, but there is no groundswell among league officials to change the rules.

Low in the story, the AP writer inserted a phrase describing the NFL's sudden-death format as "clearly an imperfect system." But that's spin. The phrase implies there is a better system somewhere to decide games tied at the end of regulation, but that's not true. And the current system is good enough.

So what could we do to improve OT?

The usual answer is to go to some version of the college format. I love this solution. Putting the ball at the opponents' 25 and alternating possessions until a winner is crowned makes me shudder.

Focusing on 25- or even 40-yard drives to break ties removes other elements of the game, specifically punt returns — and punt blocks — and the resulting field position battle. And this has led to other gyrations in the college game and is akin to what the NHL and World Cup Soccer have done to break their ties. In college football, after two "innings," PAT kicks are no longer allowed, only two-point conversions. The NHL goes to a 4-on-4 overtime period, then a shootout. In World Cup there is OT and then a shootout.

Are shootouts exciting? Sure. But they're not the sport that was just played to get to that point. Let's decide a tied baseball game not with extra innings but with a home-run-hitting contest. Let's break 48 minutes of a tied NBA tilt with a game of H-O-R-S-E.

Don't stop me, I'm on a roll now.

The impetus for this story was comments from Rich McKay, Falcons president and co-chair of the competition committee.

"Sudden death is a good procedure. It's fun and everyone knows the rules," McKay said. "I would like to see the stats change because I don't like the fact that the team winning the coin flip now wins 60 percent of the time, and the team winning the coin flip 40-plus percent of the time wins it on the first possession."

I would politely like to take issue with McKay's assessment of the stats. It is true that in 2008, 46.7 percent of regular-season overtime games (seven of 15) were decided by a field goal on the first possession. But this past season was an anomaly. From 2004-07, no more than four games in any season were decided by an OT-opening FG, no more than five in any season by an OT-opening score.

And the fact that the team winning the OT coin flip wins 60 percent of the time overall is immaterial to me. It can be argued that a team winning the toss holds an advantage throughout a 15-minute OT session, similar to holding serve in tennis. But what are you going to do about it? Have another 15-minute session when the other team gets the serve?

Football is football. There is no time during the week to replay protested games, no time after the regular-season to play tiebreaker games. And there is no way to ensure a level playing field in overtime to everyone's satisfaction.

But the answer is to play the great game of football, meaning offense, defense and special teams. Late in a close game, both sides should be going for the win. And if overtime can't be avoided, we all know the penalty. Lose the toss? Play some hellacious defense. It's no different than needing a defensive stop in the final two minutes of regulation to preserve a tie or win a game.

If it makes you feel any better, consider losing the OT coin toss to be like the offense losing a turnover. Now it's up to the other side of the ball to keep the win alive.

All right, that sounds pretty old-school, I guess. Despite all of the above, I wouldn't be opposed to some tweaking. In particular, if the NFL wants to reposition the opening kickoff of overtime from the 30 to the 40 to cut down on the frequency of half-field drives to game-winning FGs, I can live with that.

Do you want to guarantee not equal possessions but one possession each in the extra session? I don't like it, but I wouldn't become a NASCAR fanatic over it. (Sorry, Rex.)

My bottom line is this: When the game has needed changes (overtime and goalposts to the end lines in 1974, two-point conversion and kickoffs to the 30 in 1994, replay), it got them and got them right.

But right now pro football doesn't need the rouge, the action point, the four-point field goal or a shootout system, and it doesn't need a different format for overtime. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

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