Should Overtime Change; Will America Accept Ties

by John Furgele

The overtime debate has begun again.  In the aftermath of  San Diego’s 23-17 AFC Wild Card win over Indianapolis, the critics of the sudden death rule are out in full force, crying that the Colts, and all the teams that lose the coin toss and lose without ever getting the ball deserve a possession in the extra session. 

The debate, like any, has pros and cons.  It was a great game, and the 18.0 rating/30 share 11 PM peak, indicated that the fans were settling in and wanted more.  Then, to have it end so fast, so quick—so sudden—left those 30 million plus viewers disappointed and let down.  Let’s assume that San Diego scored (like they did) and went up 24-17.  The Colts would then have their chance, and the tension at the former Jack Murphy Stadium would have been both tense and  frenetic at the same time. 

The con is that sudden death has been around since the 1958 NFL Championship Game, and sports leagues do not like to tinker with their history and tradition.   Another con is that defense is part of football and the Colts had just as good a chance to stop San Diego as San Diego had to score points to win the game.  Yet another con is that the longer the game goes, the greater the chance for serious injuries to the players. 

Of all the remedies proposed, the one that seems to be the most popular is to have the teams play a regular fifteen minute quarter, just like the first quarter of any other game.  In a regular fifteen minute quarter, teams may not score or may score an unlimited amount of points.  On Saturday, the Chargers might have scored, stopped the Colts and then scored again to win the game by ten or fourteen points.  Playing a regular fifteen minute game would keep the game more like the game, just like baseball and basketball. 

But, here is the big con, and this con is unique to America and American sports and that is the dreaded tie.  Ties are loathed by Americans, so much so that Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb didn’t know that NFL games could end in a tie. 

In other parts of the word, tie games are not a disaster.  In Japanese baseball, if the game is tied after 12 innings, it is called a tie.  Soccer leagues, including the American based Major League Soccer allow games to end in  ties.  The only exception is at championship level/elimination play, then the tie is broken via two 15 minute overtimes, and if still tied, the dreaded penalty kicks.

That said, Americans hate them.  They pay their money, buy their beers and sodas and then go home saying, “that nothing was resolved,” or “why bother playing if the game is going to end in a tie?”  In sudden death, when the game is nearing the end, one can sense panic in the fan wondering, “is this game really going to end in a tie?”

Playing one fifteen minute non-sudden death period will result in more tie games and moreover, will put even more pressure on head coaches, something they probably don’t need and certainly don’t want.  Let’s say the Bills are leading the Jets 20-17 with 30 seconds left in overtime.  The Jets have a 4th and 3 at the Bills three yard line.  The field goal is a 20 yard chip shot and would get the Jets the tie.  But, now the pressure is on.  Go for the tie and you can read the headlines in the tabloids the next day; “For Tieing Out Loud,” or “It’s a Tieing Shame.”  Of course, if the Jets go for the TD and miss, the headlines will kill the coach.  Is that something the league and the coaches want? 

Look at the NHL.  For decades, the tie was an accepted part of the game.  It was not uncommon for a team to have a record such as 40-27-13 in the old 80 game schedule, a record which would be good for 93 points.  But, the NHL, because the fans loathe and despise ties,  added a five minute overtime rule.  If the game was still tied after five minutes, it was a tie.

But, that didn’t quell the masses, so the NHL decided that playing the overtime with four skaters per side (rather than five) would open things up and the result would be less ties.

Well, that wasn’t enough either.  Now, if the game is tied after the overtime period, teams have a shootout, a one-on-one shooter versus goalie competiton akin to having a free throw shooting contest to decide an NBA game.  Even more embarrassing to the NHL is that teams which lose in overtime or the shootout get one point—-for losing a game. 

If the NFL is ever going to change the overtime rule, it has to assure America that it is okay to be fit to be tied, that it’s okay for a game to end in a tie, because rest assured, if you play a regular fifteen minute period with mulitiple possessions, you’re going to have more ties.

Ties will create funny looking records.  Which team has the better record?  Team A at 11-5 or team B at 10-4-2?  Answer:  both teams have the same record.  Team B has 10 wins and two half wins as well as two half losses, so in essence, they have an 11-5 record.  If you use the CFL/NHL two points for a win, one point for a tie, each would have 22 points.  If Americans can figure out the math, then maybe ties can once again become part of the American sports fabric.

Don’t count on it.

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