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Commish says new OT rules may be considered

This is the first post for Football Zebras.



In his second annual State of the League address, Commissioner Roger Goodell stated that the Competition Committee would be looking at a possible revision to the overtime rules. This idea has new traction after Peyton Manning watched the entire overtime period from the bench in the Colts’ Wild Card loss to the Chargers. However, the Eagles and Bengals kept each other from mounting more than a 30-yard drive in the extra session, ending that Week 11 game in a tie.

Commissioner Goodell, on a question about the coin flip determining the winner of the overtime:

I think every year we look back at our overtime rules. I would disagree very strongly … that the game is determined by a coin flip. The point of the game is to win it in regulation. There is a great coach over here, Tony Dungy, who said something to me earlier this year and I think it’s important — that once that coin is flipped and you’ve determined who gets the ball, you still have to get into scoring position. So, this game is about teamwork. It’s about offense, defense and special teams. You have to earn your way to get that opportunity and if you do, you win the game. So, there is a lot of debate about all overtime rules, including the college overtime rules. We’ll look at that. We’ll look at every alternative and we’ll try to come up with something that we think makes sense. We think the rule we have is a terrific rule and it’s served us well.

When asked about removing the option for a field goal on the first drive of overtime, Goodell responded:

It’s been considered before, and I’m sure it will be considered among the alternatives. There are other ways of addressing the field goal on the first drive, and I think it is something the Competition Committee needs to consider because what we’ve seen in our statistics is that historically about 30 percent of the games in overtime are decided with a team who wins the coin flip scoring on the first possession. That number has risen to about 47 percent, and I think that’s significant, and I think it’s something our committee needs to look at. When you couple that with the fact that our field goal kickers are much more accurate than they have been in the past, that is a danger. We have talked about different concepts, and the committee will discuss this. And I’ve had some discussions with some of the committee members individually. Should we move the kickoff so that the ball, theoretically at least, would be, the drive would start further back? If they drive down and they kick a long field goal, they deserve to win. So, that suggestion that you’re making has been discussed. We’ll discuss it among the other alternatives, and I’m sure they’ll come up with a recommendation by the end of March.

As we just marked the 50th anniversary of the first overtime game (let’s forget for a moment that  1955 preseason game between the Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants), the overtime rules have been revised exactly once: to include overtime in the regular season in 1974. Usually, a high-profile case, such as the Colts–Chargers game, will bring this to the front of discussion, and time and time again, overtime is left just as it is.

If there is going to be a change, there are only two concessions that I would allow without hurting the integrity of the overtime system:

I wouldn’t mind seeing the coin toss replaced with the options given to the team last in the lead. In most cases, this would mean the team that caused the tie to kick off in overtime. It’s not the strongest, but it adds an on-field element to something that is completely random.

Second, the suggestion of moving the kickoff in overtime has some merit. The kicking game has changed tremendously since the implementation of regular-season overtime, that it has slightly tipped the balance in the fifth frame. This variation was dismissed wholeheartedly by the commissioner-emeritus Paul Tagliabue during his tenure, but seems to now be under consideration.

Other suggestions to win by six points or to equalize the number of possessions change “sudden death” dynamic into “extra innings.” Hopefully, there is no serious consideration of these options.

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)