Owners blow it with OT rules change

The new NFL overtime rule has some intrigue, I’ll grant you that. Rewind to January. The Saints, with a little help from the officials, drive down the field against the Vikings. They’re in field goal range. Do they push for the end zone to win the game without allowing Brett Favre and the Vikings a chance to touch the ball? Do they kick a field goal to take the lead but kick off to the Vikings and give them a chance to score?It’s a coaching dilemma, and it’s one that coaches should have a chance to review during preseason and regular season.

That’s the biggest flaw of this new rule. It’s for the playoffs only. Imagine a special rule for extra innings that says you have to win with a home run, but it’s only in effect during the World Series.

Three playoff games in the past 10 seasons have been decided by a field goal on the first possession of overtime, which is the scenario that is affected by Tuesday’s vote of NFL owners. Just three games. Twelve playoff games between 1970 and 2000 went into overtime, and 10 more went into overtime since then. All those games, but it really comes down to one. The Vikings-Saints game in January.

Ironically, the team that lost that game voted against the rules change. Ziggy Wilf, the Vikings owner, said he voted against the change because it should be implemented in the regular season and not just the postseason. Totally agree.

This new rule is a prop, a circus act. It may make for some fun debate and second-guessing, but it’s not football. It forces a coach to make a decision that he otherwise would not have to make. It takes too much away from the players. That’s the argument against the coin flip. Don’t let the coin decide who gets the ball and thus has a 60% chance of winning in OT.

The best option for putting the game back into the hands of the players is to play it like the NHL, not college football as many have argued. In college, teams alternate starting on the opponent’s 25-yard line. Each team gets the ball, which is great, but the kickoff and punt teams are taken out of the game this way. In the NHL, teams play a frantic five minutes of overtime with regular rules, then go to a shootout if necessary in the regular season. In the postseason, they play by regular rules until someone scores.

My proposal for the NFL is to play a 10-minute overtime. Both teams would have at least one possession, and all aspects of the game would be relevant. The period is five minutes shorter than a regular quarter. It’s enough time to make it relevant, and it’s quick enough to make a dramatic ending just as you just witnessed in the fourth quarter. If there’s still a tie after 10 minutes, let it remain a tie in the regular season. If it’s the postseason, play another 10-minute overtime. Only one of the 22 playoff games since 1970 lasted more than 20 minutes past regulation – a divisional playoff game between Miami and Kansas City on Christmas Day, 1971.

The new rule addresses the issue of the coin flip and quick drives for winning field goals, but it doesn’t tackle all the issues. For that, the NFL owners have come up short on fourth down.

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