Will NFL Change Overtime Rules?

After this weekend's Super Bowl, the thoughts of owners and league officials will turn to making modifications to the rules for 2003. One being discussed a lot more than it should is overtime. Changes may be coming, but the real question should be "why?"

During the off-season there are going to be a handful of owners meetings. One of the topics that is going to come up is overtime and how the league deals with games that aren't decided in 60 minutes. Before this season, overtime wasn't a huge issue. Suddenly it is. And, from what VU is being told by more than a few team officials, changes may be coming.

It should be noted that, of the NFL's 32 teams, only seven did not play at least one overtime game in 2002. Of those seven – Baltimore, Cincinnati, Houston and Jacksonville of the AFC and Carolina, St. Louis and Washington of the NFC – none were in sniffing distance of the playoffs. Conversely, four teams had three or more overtime games – San Diego (3-1 in OT) and Denver (1-2) of the AFC and Chicago (1-2) and Detroit (1-2) of the NFC. With a record number of games going to overtime, the call has come out to revamp the rule – despite no good rationale for change.

While VU doesn't have a good gauge on fans throughout the country, Twin Cities sports talk radio has been clogged with debate about the current system – where every fan has been given equal opportunity to spout his own views.

The prevailing wind for change centers on the misguided belief that every team that wins the coin toss in overtime marches down the field and wins the game. The truth is that only about 40 percent of overtime games – two out of every five – has seen that conclusion without one team touching the ball. In fact, teams that win the opening toss won just 60 percent of games in OT – any gambler knows that 60 percent is break-even at best.

Of all the overtime games in the NFL this year, only one ended in an actual tie – the first time since 1997 and just the second time since 1989. If the objective of overtime is to eliminate ties, it's worked. Since being instituted in 1974 for regular-season games, the Vikings have played 31 overtime games - only two of which ended in ties. In the 29 years since overtime was instituted, only 10 teams have had more than one tie and the Patriots, who lead the league with 32 OT games, have never had one finish in a tie.

Yet somehow, those who are given the forum claim there's something wrong with the system. We should go to the college rules, which allow both teams to line up and essentially turn a football game into a soccer game shootout – the only exciting part of soccer to most casual fans.

The league is going to take a long look at overtime this off-season, but the can of worms they're going to open up isn't worth the problems it will cause. If the league approves giving both teams the ball once in OT, what you'll see is the team that gets the ball first and settles for a field goal, the other team will have an inherent advantage. They can go for fourth down plays and, once in field goal range, take no chances and make it a chess match. If the new plans proposed are ever adopted, the same radio call-in fans that have spouted the virtues of changing the OT rules will be the first to say "the Vikes got robbed" under the new system. It's a Catch-22 that the NFL doesn't need to create.

What's the OT solution? Leave it alone. It's worked for almost 30 years. Who cares if college football has changed its rules for the sake of BSC rankings – the only reason ties were eliminated from college ball. The NFL is the king. It doesn't need to follow an inferior product's concept. Leave OT alone. It's worked for this long. Why change a good thing?

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