NFL owners to weigh OT change

BY JIM THOMAS
03/18/2010


In an effort to combat the tyranny of the coin toss, the NFL will consider a revised overtime system at its owners meetings next week in Orlando, Fla. Call it: not-so-sudden death overtime.

If approved, the change would be in effect for the postseason only (including the Super Bowl) beginning with the 2010 season. Here's how it works:

If the receiving team scores a field goal on its first possession of overtime, the game continues. Under this system, the team that opened overtime playing defense is entitled to one possession. If it doesn't score on that possession, the game ends. If it scores a touchdown, the game ends. If it kicks a field goal, the game continues because the score would again be tied. At that point, the game becomes a sudden-death affair, and the next score of any kind ends it.

Otherwise, the system is the same:

If the team receiving the kickoff to start overtime scores a touchdown on its first possession, the game ends right there.

If the receiving team doesn't score on its first possession of overtime, the game continues.

The proposal is being made by the NFL's competition committee in the face of continued statistical evidence that the team that wins the overtime coin toss has a greater chance of winning.

"Let's look at it statistically," Atlanta president Rich McKay said Wednesday in a conference call. "It's pretty clear there's been a change. When sudden death was put in, in 1974, it clearly worked very well. It was a good system. No. 1, it had excitement. No. 2, it broke ties."

McKay is co-chair of the competition committee.

From 1974 through 1993, McKay said, there was an even split in regular season overtime games: The team that won the coin toss won the game 46.8 percent of the time (94 games). The team that lost the coin toss won 46.8 percent of the time (94 games). The other 6.5 percent of the time or 13 times the game ended in a tie.

But since 1994, when the kickoff was moved back to the 30-yard line (from the 35), the results have become skewed. In 244 regular-season overtime games from '94 through the 2009 season, the team that won the overtime coin toss won the game 59.8 percent of the time (146 games). The team that lost the overtime coin toss ended up winning the game only 38.5 percent of the time (94 games).

(Four games, or 1.6 percent of the overtime contests, have ended in a tie from '94 through '09.)

So what had been a dead heat for the first 20 years of OT has now changed to a 21.3 percent advantage for the team winning the overtime coin toss. McKay said not just the kickoff being moved back, but also the increased accuracy of field goal kickers over the years, has contributed to the trend.

"So I would say to you that there are advocates who will say that we're trying to put in a system that emphasizes more skill and more strategy in overtime as opposed to the randomness of the coin flip," McKay said. "Those on the other side will tell you it works pretty well, it's exciting, and there's an opportunity for less plays, and that is an important product that's needed in overtime."

One reason the proposal is for postseason games only is because there are only 1.2 overtime games per postseason as opposed to about 15.8 overtime contests per regular season.

"That's why we started with the postseason proposal," McKay said.

There were two overtime games last postseason, but the proposal would have affected only New Orleans' 31-28 victory over Minnesota. In that game, the Saints won the coin toss and drove for a field goal on the opening possession of overtime. Under the new proposal, the Vikings would have been entitled to an offensive possession after Garrett Hartley's kick.