It’s been almost half a century since the NFL instituted an overtime rule for regular-season games and about 10 minutes since someone last complained about it. The rule has evolved over time, and now the Baltimore Ravens have ideas for changing it one more time.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick reportedly supports the Ravens’ idea in principle but prefers one additional change.
The NFL introduced regular-season overtimes in 1974
There has long been a need for overtime to decide NFL playoff games – the 1958 championship contest between the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts launched the sport to a new level of popularity – but it took 29 ties in the first four years of the NFL-AFL merger for owners to do something about regular-season games that ended without a winner.
Beginning in 1974, the league instituted a sudden-death format to break ties, and it worked. Only three games in the next six seasons went the full 15-minute period without a tie-breaking score.
Still, overtime had its critics. Through 2011, the first team to score was the winner, which made it too easy to win the coin toss, drive 45 or so yards, and kick a field goal. Beginning in 2012, both teams were guaranteed a possession unless the first team with the ball scored a touchdown. A further modification in 2017 shortened the overtime to 10 minutes as a safety measure.
To this day, however, the overtime rule rates as football’s No. 1 flaw. The last moments of the fourth quarter often get played out conservatively and then the overtime coin toss becomes predictable because the winner almost always wants the ball. If the first possession ends without points, the rest of the overtime plays out with two head coaches racing to see who can be first in trying a 48-yard field-goal attempt.
Another year, another idea to fix overtime
The rules revision preventing walk-off field goals on the opening overtime possession has narrowed the advantage of winning the coin toss, but it is still considered an issue. Teams winning the coin toss invariably want the ball first and continue to win slightly more often than they lose.
Some have suggested adopting a variation of the college version of the overtime rule, giving teams alternating possessions starting from an arbitrary position on the field (perhaps the 35-yard-line for the NFL) until one has more points after an equal number of possessions.
Other proposals for changes are also floated periodically. According to Pro Football Talk, there are two variations of a radical new idea receiving consideration this offseason. Passage of either will require approval from 24 of the 32 NFL team owners meeting at the end of March or at a subsequent league meeting.
The ‘spot-and-choose’ method is getting a look
The Baltimore Ravens have proposed spicing up overtimes by using a variation of a common practice in the business world in which one owner goes to his or her partner with a proposition: Buy me out at this price or let me buy you out at the same price.
The Ravens’ idea has been labeled the “spot-and-choose” method and still begins overtime with a coin toss but without an ensuing kickoff. Here’s how it works:
- The team winning the coin toss picks the yard line at which the ball will be spotted for the opening possession.
- It then becomes decision time for the other team: Would they rather play offense or defense from that spot on the field.
- The 10-minute overtime is then played under otherwise normal rules, but the first team to score wins.
The Ravens have also put forward a version of their proposal in which the overtime period would last for 7:30 and be played in full no matter who scores when or how.
The latter is the proposal that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick reportedly favors.
Will the NFL adopt either variation? The hunch is that the votes aren’t there yet if for no other reason than the idea is so different from all the previous solutions that have been pitched. Give the owners more time to look it over, however, and it might have a chance.