NFL OWNERS APPROVE ‘MODIFIED SUDDEN DEATH’
We think that the overtime format, more than 50 years removed from its first use with no modification, has worked just fine. However, if we were on the Competition Committee—and we had to make a modification to overtime—we would have considered the following proposals before “modified sudden death.”
1. Move the kickoff to the 35. The simplest solution to reverse the field-position advantage gained when kickoffs were moved back to the 30 yard line is to move the overtime kickoffs to the 35.
2. Replace the coin toss in overtime. Rather than let an arbitrary coin flip “decide overtime,” as is often (incorrectly) argued (roughly a 60/40 advantage goes to the coin-toss winner), use an on-field element to determine the first possession in overtime. By giving possession to the team last in the lead, a team couldn’t score a last-second tying field goal in regulation, win the coin toss, and then have the first possession in overtime (essentially this proposal would prevent two consecutive possessions at the end of the game to the “comeback” team).
3. Start overtime from the fourth quarter dead-ball spot. A slightly more radical proposal would do away with the coin toss and kickoff to start overtime, and have the teams merely switch sides of the field as if the beginning of regulation was the same as the beginning of the second or fourth quarters. The only way* overtime could have a kickoff would be if the final play of regulation is the game-tying score. The slight downside is a tie game at the two-minute warning gives no urgency, as the offense could grind out a ten-minute drive through the first eight minutes of overtime, although that would be because it was allowed by the defense. (*There would also be no kickoff starting the third overtime period, either, but that has never happened in an NFL game.)
4. Best kickoff return. This is the most radical suggestion, and not my favorite, but only slightly better than the proposal voted by the owners. Essentially conduct two kickoffs to start overtime, with the team attaining the best field position keeping the ball. Of course, back-to-back runbacks to the house would turn overtime into a home-run derby.