I’m too busy to watch much football, but I do enjoy the NFL when I get a chance. In week 11, there were two games where the score was tied after 60 minutes. The Jets beat New England on a routine field goal at the end of a nice drive, but it feels kind of like the coin toss won the game. And Philly and the Bengals tied, which is also a lousy outcome. Up here in Canada, we have a better solution.

The Canadian Football League (season’s just winding up, next Sunday is Grey Cup day) has a variant of college-football overtime procedures, like so:

  • Team A gets the ball on Team B’s 35-yard line and you see what happens. Absent defensive heroics, they’ll probably get at least three points. If Team B forces a turnover and scores off that, they win.

  • Team B gets the ball on Team A’s 35. After they’ve had their turn, either it’s still tied or someone has won.

  • If they’re still tied, they repeat the process, in the opposite order, which mean Team B gets two offensive series in a row.

The only flaw in the system is that it allows for at most two repetitions of this, so ties are possible albeit incredibly rare.

Hey NFL, look north and learn.



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From: Michael Galpin (Nov 16 2008, at 21:11)

Some mathematical analysis of the NFL's overtime system: http://www.maa.org/mathland/mathtrek_11_08_04.html .

Not sure if things are actually more fair in the NCAA or Canadian football. However, it is very unlikely the NFL would go with such a system, as it makes the length of the game (and thus television scheduling) non-deterministic.

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From: Matt Thompson (Nov 16 2008, at 21:23)

Tim - I actually dislike (intensely) the college (and CFL) overtime rules. W/the exception of the field goal unit, it takes the special teams players completely out of the game. You should have to play offense, defense, and special teams to win a game, not just two of the three...

In the playoffs you can't have a tie - so this only an issue w/regular season games. Several years ago there was a lot of debate as to how they might change the "first to score" overtime rules - no good answer emerged.

As for the game today - both teams did get at least one chance in the OT to win it - the fact neither team did suggests a tie was a reasonable result.

Years ago the NFL wouldn't go a season without 1 or more ties - this used to be a sign of two equally matched teams.

I agree that the coin toss introduces a non-skill related factor of who can win the game. Consider this - Since 2006 only 44% of the time has the team who has won the coin toss actually scored off their first drive.

What has been discussed (yet voted down the last 3 years) is the idea of giving each team at least one possession (regardless of outcome) in the OT. If it remains tied at that point, then it goes to sudden death...

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From: Craig S. Cottingham (Nov 16 2008, at 21:49)

That's similar to the shootout in hockey, isn't it?

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From: James (Nov 17 2008, at 05:17)

The rules of the defunct NFLE and WLAF insisted that each teams offense got at least one possession in overtime. That produced some exciting finishes - if the winner of the coin toss scored first then they still had to play defence and stop the other team to win!

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From: John (Nov 17 2008, at 07:23)

No need to look North - adopt the NCAA football overtime rules, including the requirement to go for 2 after two possessions.

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From: Kevin W. Parker (Nov 17 2008, at 07:50)

I'd like to see the overtime rules modified in just one way: the game isn't over until both teams have possession opportunities. If the team that wins the coin toss scores on their initial drive, then they have to kick off to the other team and then stop the other team's drive (with a turnover, missed field goal, or a failure to make a first down) to win.

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From: Ryan Cousineau (Nov 17 2008, at 15:58)

Clearly the best solution is to retain the NFL overtime rules, but to steal the late XFL's opening scramble to decide possession:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XFL#Opening_scramble

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From: silverpie (Nov 17 2008, at 16:00)

Personal opinion, ties are perfectly OK. (Obviously not in the playoffs...) But here's a suggestion I heard a while back and liked: Alternate-possession overtime, like the CFL/NCAA/NFHS rules, but each period begins with a team taking a free kick from its own 20 (like the restart after a safety--note to Canadians, this *can* be a punt, not sure of the CFL rule on that).

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From: rick (Nov 18 2008, at 10:16)

Getting the ball on the 35 is basically a guaranteed 3 points in the NFL since 45-50 yard field goals are routine. What will happen, then, is that the offense's play calling will have as its goals 1) score a TD, 2) get the ball a bit closer to increase the odds of a FG 3) don't turn it over. Yes, they could get a first down and would try I'm sure... but the fact that you START with 3 points basically in the bank affects your strategy too much. And, if the first team kicks a FG you're reduced to hoping the other team misses to win. I hate games were you win because the other team doesn't do something. I want to WIN, not NOT LOSE.

Instead, start on the 50. Don't move the ball? No points (or a VERY low chance of points). Getting a first down thus becomes a much bigger deal as you need one, perhaps two, in order to get a reasonable shot at points.

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From: Stephen (Nov 18 2008, at 18:16)

What's wrong with ties? (except in cup style competitions, obviously)

Assuming that the score at the end of the game is meant to be determined by the skill of the team why wouldn't you want two evenly matched teams to end up with the same score and share the glory (or ignominy)?

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From: Ricky (Nov 23 2008, at 19:51)

Here's how I would propose to fix the overtime debate.

The team with possession retains it, and the teams swap ends of the field. Let it play out as a continuation of the fourth quarter, rather the start of another half.

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From: Joe (Dec 15 2008, at 08:45)

What would be simpler is that they could ask teams where they want to start with the ball. The team that will take worse field position starts.

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