Fixing NFL Overtime

Last night I, along with the entire football-watching population of the Eastern Time Zone, stayed up past midnight to watch the Seahawks just barely squeak a win past the 49ers in the dying seconds of overtime. That the game ended with a winner and a loser at all is something of a minor miracle, and while the game was excellent and a lot of fun, it was also a lot more football than I needed after an emotionally exhausting slate of Sunday games. It kept me up past my bedtime and forced me to listed to more of Joe Tessitore, a nigh-on intolerable cheesedick, as well as the execrable, odious John Parry, whose every contorted and ass-backward defense of the referees sounds like it was plagiarized from a Blue Lives Matter propaganda leaflet. And, despite stringing me and the rest of the viewing public along on the premise that surely one of these teams was going to come away with a win, it came dangerously close to wasting everyone’s time by ending in a tie.

The possibility of a tie was at the forefront of my mind for the entire overtime, because while overtime is theoretically designed solely to eliminate or decrease the amount of ties, the NFL’s overtime rules have mutated to the point where they practically encourage them. The period has been shortened to ten minutes, and each team gets at least one possession, unless the first team to get the ball scores a touchdown. Ten minutes may seem like more than enough time for someone to score, but given that plenty of possessions take five minutes or more and still end in a punt, those ten minutes can evaporate in a real hurry. Thus, we are left with the skullfuckingly counter-intuitive state of affairs where overtime makes ties more likely.

This is, of course, a symptom of the NFL’s broader tendency to legislate its own rules past the point of philosophical coherence. Even the simplest of concepts for the sport (such as what does or does not constitute a catch) have become an impenetrale labyrinth of qualifiers, exceptions, and exceptions to the exceptions that invariably bog down just about every single game, sometimes to the point of unwatchability. This has been the NFL’s guiding ethos long enough for the brightest among us to realize that, for whatever reason, the league almost certainly wants it this way, but that doesn’t mean I can’t dream of a world where overtime makes a lick of sense. Therefore, I humbly propose the following improvements to the NFL’s current overtime system.

First, allow me to establish my theoretical framework. As I watched last night’s game seemingly careen towards a tie, I was contemplating the broader resistance to ties in this country, and in the process I was reminded that many high level classical musical competitions explicitly reject the premise that there must be a winner. If the judges feel that not even the best performance of the crop of competitors was worthy of the highest prize, that prize is not awarded. This, in turn, got me thinking that football could use some of this mentality. Perhaps not all teams deserve to win, including teams that happen to be playing each other. What teams deserve to win? This may seem like a semantic rabbit0hole, but it is quite the opposite. Since 60 minutes of play time is, in most instances, plenty of time for a team to emerge victorious, it is therefore clear that a team that deserves to win a football game is one that is capable of doing so in regulation.

Once this premise is accepted, the way to fix overtime becomes clear. Here’s how to fix overtime:

  • There is no overtime period in regular season play. Any regular season game that is tied at the end of regulation ends in a tie. If a team that deserves to win is capable of doing so in regulation, it immediately follows that when two teams are tied at the end of regulation, neither deserves to win. Since the limited amount of regular season games in football is meant to maximize the importance of each game, it is vital that each team do their best to win each game. By failing to win in regulation, a team demonstrates their failure to do their best to win, and this makes the disappointment of a tie a fitting punishment.

  • Any postseason game that is tied at the end of regulation will immediately enter sudden death, to a maximum of two 15-minute overtime periods. If a team that deserves to win is one that is capable of winning in regulation, and if the playoffs are meant to determine which of the winningest regular season teams is the best of the best, it follows that any playoff game that requires overtime is an affront to the idea of the playoffs themselves. Therefore, overtime must be kept to a minimum, which means that any and all overtime periods must adopt strict sudden death rules. The “sudden death unless the first possession ends in a field goal” nonsense is predicated on the idea that in certain circumstances, it is unfair for a team to be denied a possession in overtime. However, if it is granted that a team that deserves to win is capable of doing so in regulation, it follows that it is impossible for strict sudden death rules to be unfair under any circumstances. The other team already had their chance in regulation. That said, because it is also true that the playoffs are designed around the idea that there must be a winner, there are to be two overtime periods, in order to maximize the opportunity for a winner to emerge.

  • Any postseason game that remains tied after two 15-minute overtime periods will be declared a draw, with both teams being eliminated from the postseason. By now, the reasoning for this should be pretty clear. If a team in a playoff game truly deserves to win, 90 minutes of play time is beyond sufficient to determine this. The fact that there has never been a triple overtime game in NFL history underscores both the justness of this rule and the soundness of the operating premise regarding what it means to deserve to win. Teams that are truly good and truly worthy of advancing in the playoffs are capable of scoring at least once in 30 minutes, even in the most brutal defensive battles. That said, in acknowledgment of the fact that TV broadcast rights are the financial engine of the league itself, and therefore it is financially unacceptable for a playoff game to be canceled, there is a remedy in the extremely unlikely event of a draw and double elimination. The highest seeded team to be eliminated in the previous round shall be placed in the next round. For example, if a Divisional Round game between the 2nd and 3rd seeds game ends in a draw, and the 1st seed beats the 5th seed to advance, the 4th seed shall be placed in the Conference Championship game against the 1st seed. If a Wild Card game ends in a draw, the 7th seed shall be sent to the probable slaughter against the 1st seed in the Divisional Round.

  • If the second overtime period of the Super Bowl ends with both teams tied, the game is declared a draw, and the Lombardi Trophy is not awarded for the season. Again, by now the reasoning for this should be crystal clear. The Super Bowl exists to determine a champion, and being a champion explicitly requires that a team deserve to win. Therefore, a team that cannot secure victory after 90 minutes does not deserve to win the Super Bowl, even if that team deserved to get there in the first place. If for some reason you find this argument unsatisfactory, consider that only one Super Bowl has gone to overtime (which yet again underscores the soundness of my premise), and that game ended after the first possession. There is no reason to believe the Super Bowl would ever end in a draw, because the Super Bowl invariably features at least one team that is good enough to win the Super Bowl. This will never happen, and in the infinitesimally improbable event that it does, it will be what both teams deserve.

In conclusion, the way to fix overtime in the NFL is to avoid it at all costs. Reflexively demanding a winner and loser in all circumstances is reactionary, philosophically untenable, and a waste of everyone’s time. End communication.

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