Fixing the overtime mess

The Tennessee football team needed 4½ hours and four overtimes to beat Kentucky 52-50 last Saturday. Arkansas needed roughly 4 hours and three overtimes to upset top-ranked LSU 50-48 in another marathon match.

That much football in one afternoon may be great for fans but it puts too much strain on the human body, even a 20-year old body in peak physical condition. The more fatigued a player becomes, the more susceptible to injury he becomes. That's why the NCAA needs to take steps to decrease the injury risk by decreasing the likelihood of multiple overtimes.

Here are a few ideas:

SUGGESTION: Start overtime play at the 35-yard line instead of the 25.

REASON: By starting at the opponent's 25-yard line, the offensive team already is in range for a 42-yard field goal – a virtual chip shot by today's standards. Moving the ball back 10 yards would force offenses to take more chances, resulting in more sacks, more interceptions and more scoreless possessions.

SUGGESTION: Make teams go for two points following EVERY overtime touchdown.

REASON: The NCAA already mandates two-point tries after the first two OT periods. Why not expedite matters and force teams to go for two right from the start? The odds of ending a game quickly on a failed two-point try are infinitely better than the odds of ending it on a failed PAT kick.

SUGGESTION: Change the rule so that all live-ball penalties will be assessed, even when they occur after a change of possession.

REASON: No foul should go unpunished, especially a blatant one. In the Tennessee-Kentucky game, for instance, one of the Wildcats grabbed the face-mask of Eric Berry, preventing him from returning a blocked field goal for a game-winning touchdown in Overtime No. 2. Not only were the Vols denied a score; they were denied the 15 penalty yards they were due. You can't blame the Wildcat tackler: If you had to decide between grabbing a face-mask and losing a game, which would you choose? A 15-yard penalty should've been assessed on Tennessee's next overtime possession, allowing the Vols to open play at the UK 10, instead of the 25. That kind of deterrent would significantly reduce blatant fouls in overtime.

Some observers have suggested the NCAA adopt the NFL's sudden-death model for overtime. God forbid. The pro team that gets the ball first almost always kicks a game-winning field goal. Essentially, the NFL is determining overtime games by the flip of a coin. Besides, two college teams with great defenses and mediocre kickers might need eight overtimes before either one could manage a score.

The NCAA's overtime model is a good one. It just needs a little tweaking.


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