It is inconceivable that a team can lose a game before it even gets a chance to win it, but that is what can happen every time an NFL game goes into overtime.
An NFL overtime starts with a coin toss. Whichever team wins the toss, receives possession of the football.
Overtime is sudden death, so it is possible that whoever loses the coin toss can lose the game, without ever giving its offense a chance to win it.
This occurred during last Saturday’s AFC Divisional play-off match between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans.
To lose a game in this manner has to be tough. But it is even more painful to swallow when a trip to the AFC Championship Game is at stake.
The NFL, which went to a sudden death overtime format in 1974 (before then games would end in a tie) has completely dropped the ball on this situation.
This is equivalent to a baseball game going into extra innings, and only giving one team a chance to bat, or to a basketball game going into overtime, and letting only one team take all of the shots while the other team defends.
Since 1974, there have been 356 overtime games, including this season and last Saturday’s game. Fifty-two percent of the teams that win the coin toss went on to win the game.
In the 26 overtime games this season, 62 percent (16) of the teams that won the toss won the game.
ESPN’s John Clayton, an advocate for the current overtime, said midway through the season that the format shouldn’t be changed until that percentage rose. At the time, it was at 46 percent.
“Call me when the number settles in over 50 percent,” he said.
Hello, may I speak to Mr. Clayton?
It may be difficult to set overtime rules that would be fair to both teams, because after all, teams do not change possessions in football nearly as often as they do in other sports.
However, if college football can get it right, then there is no reason the league can’t follow suit.
In college, both teams get an opportunity to score. Each team starts from its opponent’s 25-yard line.
Whatever score the team that has the ball first (which is decided by a coin toss) gets, the opposing team has to either match, to send the game into a second overtime, or beat, which would end the game.
This format gives both teams an opportunity to win. In the case of the Steelers, it would have given its strongest part of the team – its offense – a chance to help determine the outcome.
At the beginning of this season, “only” 93 of the 330 overtime games were won by teams that won the toss and then scored on their first possession.
Although this is “only” a 28 percent ratio, had an overtime system like college football’s been in place, who knows how drastically NFL history would be changed.
Those 93 games could have meant the difference between a team going to a Super Bowl or staying home.
Earlier this season, the topic of changing the overtime format came up after the Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons played to a 34-34 tie.
League commissioner Paul Taglibue said at the time that changing the format would be discussed at the end of the season. But he also said that no one should expect any changes to be made.
I am confused by that statement as well as by the lack of discussion among league officials about changing the format.
It is clearly an unfair way to determine the outcome of a game. Something needs to be done, and I’m sure plenty of people agree with me.
And I’ll bet most of those people are Steelers fans.
Kevin Fair, 20, is a sophomore newspaper journalism student from Pompano Beach. He is The Famuan’s deputy sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.