A simple solution for the NFL's bizarre overtime rules

The NFL has a habit of taking simple things and making them far more complicated. The idea is to create rules that anticipate every conceivable scenario and to avoid odd situations in which fans, coaches, players, and even officials, are left scratching their heads.

The obvious example is the NFL’s ever-more-complicated catch rule. Another example is the overtime rules.

In 2012, the NFL changed the overtime rules. Now, both teams get a shot in overtime unless the first team to have the ball scores a touchdown.

As Scott Van Pelt of ESPN noted during the playoffs following the 2015 season, ending the game on a touchdown in the first drive is still “awfully arbitrary.” However, his proposed solution of giving both teams the ball no matter what happens on the first drive is still problematic.

In theory, one team could still be in a situation where they never have a chance to win the game. If both teams score touchdowns on their opening drives of overtime, the game would then be in a sudden-death situation and the team that had the ball first would be going for the win on their second possession.

The biggest issue most have is finding a way to make overtime as fair as possible. So maybe the better and simpler solution is to stop trying to make overtime fair and instead get rid of overtime all together.

But wait. We don’t like ties either.

How do we get rid of overtime and avoid ties as much as possible?

If the game is tied at the end of the fourth quarter, just keep playing the fourth quarter until one team takes the lead.

If a team has the ball when time in the fourth quarter runs out, don’t end the quarter. Don’t have another coin flip. Don’t have the referee explaining overly complicated rules that even some coaches don’t understand. And don’t have another kickoff.

Instead, just keep playing the fourth quarter as if there was still time on the clock, and keep playing until one team takes the lead. When that happens, it’s game over.

Yes, this is akin to sudden death. But by having it in the fourth quarter instead of after a kickoff in a new period, we eliminate the need to get both teams the ball since both teams will have had the ball several times in the fourth quarter already.

Yes, the team with the ball would have an advantage at the end of regulation. But unlike a coin flip in overtime, the advantage is one that they actually earned through strategy.

Strategies will undoubtedly change. Teams with the ball in a tie game will be less rushed to get into range for a potential game-winning field goal. But this change would also eliminate teams taking a knee at the end of regulation and just playing for overtime.

In the end, it is the arbitrary nature of overtime that everybody wants to get rid of. By getting rid of overtime and just extending the game, that problem is solved.

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