The NFL is no stranger to criticism, particularly regarding its overtime rules. The first official game to play overtime was a matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Giants that was tied at the end of regulation in 1955. Ever since, the NFL has struggled with the growing pains of developing a sustainable overtime system.
Critics of the NFL argue that reform of the overtime system is well overdue, and that the professional league ought to implement a new set of rules that resemble college football’s overtime.
The largest issue with the NFL’s rules, some argue, is the possibility of a tie at the conclusion of a game. The NCAA prevents that possibility by allowing overtime to continue until there is a winner and a loser.
Proponents of the NFL’s rules argue that the professional league’s shorter overtime periods are a vital safety measure, since NCAA overtime games can extend for a longer period of time than is safe for the players.
Is the NCAA system superior? Should the NFL adopt it anyway? How might such a change affect either league?
College Football’s Streamlined Approach Guarantees a Winner and a Loser
By Frank Fishman, For The Heights
Regardless of Which Is Superior, the NFL Should Not Adopt the NCAA’s Overtime System
By Gabriel Wallen, For The Heights
The college overtime format is simple and easy for viewers to understand. In the NFL, however, the rules are a bit murky. The NFL claims that both teams are given the opportunity to possess the ball in a 10-minute period, but such a statement is misleading, since the game can end on the first possession if it results in a touchdown or safety. If it is not one of those two outcomes, the game continues as “next score wins.” If no team scores or the game is tied with no touchdowns scored after 10 minutes of play, it ends in a tie. That’s right, a tie. After 70 minutes of hard-hitting football, no winner can be declared. Confusing and anticlimactic.
In college football, overtime is fun and captivating. Each team is absolutely guaranteed (key phrase) an offensive possession. There are no kickoffs, as each team starts at the opposing 25-yard line. The team on offense starts at 1st-and-10 and plays through their untimed possession. Next, the other team gets a chance to start on offense at the opposing team’s 25-yard-line. If the second team is unable to match the first team’s score, the first team wins. If the second team surpasses the first team’s score, the second team wins. If both teams produce the same result on their possessions, they play another overtime period with both teams getting another possession. The team that went second in the first overtime period goes first in the second overtime (and it alternates with each overtime). Overtime rules continue for up to four overtimes. If the game is still tied, both teams will alternate two-point conversion attempts until one succeeds and the other fails, giving the team that succeeded the victory. Simple, easy, awesome.
College rules are superior for three major reasons. First, the NCAA’s approach minimizes snaps. With no kickoffs and a shorter field, it creates less time for injury, which, when the game is on the line, often results from heightened emotions.
Second, each team actually gets the ball. There have been infamous occasions where potent offenses—the 2017 Super Bowl LI Atlanta Falcons and the 2019 AFC Championship Kansas City Chiefs, to name a couple—did not see the field in overtime because their defenses gave up touchdowns on the first drive. Too much importance relies on the luck of the coin toss.
And third: Ties are unnecessary. Seriously, a tie is never an acceptable outcome in sports, not even in Little League. The professionals should follow the amateurs on this one and play until someone comes out ahead.
The criticisms of the NFL overtime system are obvious. The winner of the overtime coin toss has a huge advantage that often leaves the outcome of the game up to chance. Last year, the New Orleans Saints fell victim to such luck when the Minnesota Vikings won the coin toss, scored a touchdown, and finished the game before the Saints’ offense even touched the field in overtime.
Additionally, the NFL’s overtime does not entirely rule out the possibility of a tie. If the teams cannot be separated after two periods, fans will be left with a neutral result.
Frustrating as the existing rules may be, the solution does not lie in the NFL adopting NCAA rules.
In college, football games cannot end in a tie. Games will go on until a team fails to score, which, as one might imagine, has led to a number of very long games.
In fact, since 2001, five games have gone to a record seven overtime periods, pushing the end result well into the wee hours of the following mornings.
With the possibility of such drawn-out games, it is no wonder that the NFL is hesitant to implement such a system. If games stretch even longer than they already do, the risks of injury can skyrocket. With franchises and individual careers so dependent on players staying healthy in such an intense league, the benefit of eliminating ties does not outweigh the risk.
That is not to say that college football is not intense—it very much is. It is hard to deny, however, that players are generally more at risk in the NFL than they are in college.
Tied games are also not at all a common occurrence in the NFL. In 2017, the NFL shortened overtime periods from 15 minutes to 10 minutes. Of the 44 regular season games that have gone into overtime since then, only four have resulted in a tie.
Admittedly, some of those ties may have had season-affecting consequences at the time. In 2018, for example, Minnesota tied the Green Bay Packers and that ultimately cost the Vikings a trip to the playoffs. Although hugely disappointing for Vikings fans at the time, instances such as these are rare. But the possibility of ties is not nearly enough to upend the entire overtime system.
NFL overtime rules may not be perfect, and perhaps the NCAA system is more popular among fans, after all. But in the end, forcing the college style onto the professional would be a step in the wrong direction.
Featured Graphic by Eamon Laughlin / Heights Editor