Fisticuffs: Settling the scoreline

Anyone who knows anything about sports will tell you that the National Football League is the nation’s model sports league.

The NFL is known for its smooth operations and overwhelming popularity with American sports fans. It could easily be argued that no other sports league in the world functions under a more fairly designed team draft system, working salary cap and with better behaved athletes. The NFL’s supreme administration and commitment to building a competitive league is the reason that it is the most profitable sports league in the United States.

However, there is still one area where the league falls short: the situation of a stalemate game and the leagues’ ruling on overtime.

Consider the following scenario: you’ve been watching your team play since the beginning of regulation time. Through four quarters your team has lead, fallen behind, made a few amazing plays and kept themselves alive up until the final seconds. Unfortunately, the game is locked in a tied score. The current NFL rules are simple: 15 minutes of overtime play and the first team to score wins.As the referee blows his whistle to signal the end of regulation time, the players organize themselves for overtime and designated captains are sent to attend the coin toss that will determine which team receives possession. As stated in a recent Time article, Elias Sports Bureau reports that 64 percent of the teams in the past 30 years who win this coin toss go on to win the game. This means that almost two-thirds of the time, a coin toss has decided the outcome of a game.

A coin toss.

After 60 minutes of grueling, hard-fought football, you watch as your team loses the coin toss. Now, the opposing team simply has to drive within range of a field goal and kick three points to win. It doesn’t matter that the game has been evenly played. It doesn’t matter that your team hasn’t had a chance to score in overtime.

Last season, we saw this take place at Gillette Stadium when the New England Patriots fought their way back twice against the New York Jets by scoring 18 points in a row, only to eventually lose the game in overtime when the Jets won the coin toss and kicked a 34 foot field goal to win. The outcome stung extra hard for Patriots’ fans after Randy Moss completed an astonishing catch to send New England into overtime. The Jets were happy enough to get a victory from a game, in which they had twice blown a large lead.This season, the Patriots suffered the same fate during week five to the Denver Broncos.

Last Sunday, the New York Jets took on the Buffalo Bills in a game that was marked by poor plays and weak offense. A 13-13 tie sent the game into an overtime period that Buffalo eventually ended with a game-winning
field goal – big surprise.

Last Sunday’s overtime period between the Jets and Bills only availed both teams ample opportunities to score because of terrible play and sloppy execution. The reality remains that when a team scores in NFL overtime, the other team is given no last opportunity to retaliate.

No other sports league leaves the fate of a tied game down to the flick of a coin. The routine outcome of a game-ending field goal and the defenseless losing team has become more than unfair, it has become un-NFL-like.

The National Football League needs to examine their rules for overtime play and develop a tie-breaking scenario that provides both teams with an equal opportunity and fans with less heartbreak.