Why NFL Overtime Needs to Be Blown Up

The 1948 Army/Navy game ended in a 21-21 tie — prompting Navy head coach Tom Hamilton to make his now-famous quote: "(Playing to) a tie is like kissing your sister."

Over the years, not everyone has agreed with this observation — including George Brett (different sport, I know), who quipped that "if a tie is like kissing your sister, losing is like kissing your grandmother with her teeth out."

With 10 of the 12 postseason games that have been played since the overtime rules were most recently revised in 2010 having been won by the team that won the coin toss to start overtime, what, if anything, to do about this grossly unfair situation has become a hot topic once again.

However, since there are many ways of moving, but only one way of standing still, the odds are that nothing will be done about this once again — unless a well-thought-out proposal for changing the overtime rules can be crafted.

The following changes might be just what the proverbial doctor ordered:

No game clock in overtime. Both teams get the same number of possessions until one team has scored more points than the other, with the teams taking turns getting the ball first if the score is still tied after both teams have had one (or more than one) possession. Kickoff and punt rules are the same as in regulation.

Any safety, and any turnover committed by the second team to receive possession in each cycle, ends the game (and if that turnover is returned or recovered in the end zone for a touchdown, the touchdown counts for all purposes; e.g., if an 8-point favorite scores such a touchdown after having scored on their own possession, they cover the spread).

This should apply to postseason games only. Overtime should be abolished altogether during the regular season, so that many if not most battles for division titles and/or playoff berths can be decided by half-game margins (as the Steelers made the playoffs this season as the result of their tie against Detroit) rather than by arcane tie-breaking procedures which at least as often as not give the nod to the wrong team: Say that, in a year when the AFC won the interconference season series by a wide margin, two NFC teams that did not play a head-to-head game against each other finish with the same record; in that case, the team with the better record within the conference wins the tie-breaker — thus rewarding the team that did better against weaker competition!

(Six times from 1980 to the present, one conference lost the interconference season series by 10 or more games, and record within that conference was used to a break a tie or ties between or among two or more teams to decide which teams made the playoffs and which teams did not).

In 1973 — the last season before regular-season overtime was introduced — seven games out of the 182 games played that year, or 3.8 per cent, ended in a tie. With the season now consisting of 272 games, that comes out to 10 tie games per year, rounded to the nearest whole game. That's pretty close to half the teams in the league having played a tie game during the course of a typical season, with the other half not having done so — the ideal scenario for keeping the use of the tie-breaking procedures to the barest minimum possible.

To provide a deterrent against teams from trying to play for multiple tie games in the same season, the CFL's point system, which awards two points for a win and one point for a tie, can be implemented — with the stipulation that most wins shall be the first tie-breaker; e.g., a 10-7 team finishes ahead of a 9-6-2 team.

And we can always count on the Ron Riveras and John Harbaughs to go for a winning two-point conversion instead of a tying PAT at the end of games, so as not to "kiss their sister."

In addition, in the last week or two of the season, sheer playoff implications will compel a team to go for the win at the end of a game — not only by eschewing a game-tying PAT as above, but also forgoing a game-tying field goal attempt in favor of trying to score a game-winning touchdown.

If overtime exists in the playoffs only, it makes playoff games special — just like, prior to 1985, only the World Series was best-of-seven, the League Championship Series having heretofore been best-of-five, a format that my esteemed colleague Jeff Kallman would like to see brought back.

Finally, the late John Madden repeatedly wondered, "What's wrong with a tie?" Fellow Canton enshrinee Chuck Noll expressed the same sentiment.

If ties were good enough for Madden and Noll, then they should be good enough for everyone else.

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