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Why did we change the OT rule exactly?



Week 11: Jaguars at Texans

Referee Clete Blakeman nearly presided over tie games in back-to-back weeks. The new overtime rule (to reiterate, we hate it) is that if a team scores a field goal on the opening possession of overtime, the opposing team gets an opportunity to possess the ball. If they equalize the score, we move to standard sudden death.

The Texans scored their field goal on the opening possession. The Jaguars reciprocated on the next possession (first time in NFL history a team scored second in overtime). Later in the overtime period, the Texans ended the game on a touchdown pass. By the way, 9 points by one team and 12 points total are the most points that can be scored by rule (until they change it).

As of yet, the new rule has not reversed the result that would have been final under the standard sudden-death rules.

What it did do was add 23 plays to the overtime period in this game. Twenty-three extra chances for a player to be injured, which is not an insignificant gamble for both teams. Also, it nearly took a decisive result — 3-point win under the old rules — and nearly converted it in a tie game — the touchdown came with two minutes remaining in the extra period.

In the 2011 regular season, before this rule applied to regular season games, two games were decided by a first-possession field goal in overtime out of 256 played. The rule has been in effect in the playoffs for two seasons already, and the “modified” part of modified sudden death has not been invoked in the postseason. Furthermore, in the entire history of the NFL, there have been three postseason games where this rule would have applied. It is a solution looking for a problem.

In fact, the rationale for the change has been rendered moot. The Competition Committee released flawed statistics correlated to the rule change to the kickoff spot in 1994. It showed that the team that had first possession in overtime scored more often after kickoffs were moved to the 30-yard line, but did not show how many of those teams scored on the first possession. In 2011, the kickoffs were moved back to the old 35-yard line spot, so this should have solved this alleged inequity. Yet, the modified sudden-death rule was expanded anyway to the regular season this year.

The Competition Committee needs to look at repealing this silly rule, and leave extra innings to baseball.

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)

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