The NFL Spring League Meeting will be held next week, and on the agenda is the widely discussed shorter overtime. The length of overtime in preseason and regular season games looks to be reduced from 15 to 10 minutes, and owners are expected to approve the proposal. One issue has been named the primary reason for this change -- but what do shorter overtimes really mean beyond this?
There are primary concerns regarding the number of additional plays if the 15-minute overtime remains, and the concern is greater if one of the teams is slated to play again in less than a week’s time. But let’s face it. 70 minutes of play compared to 75 can't possibly make that much of a difference. Not when there's an average of five NFL games per season that pass the 10 minute mark in overtime.
There's a stark difference in opinions. The proposal received significant support from coaches, claiming to have seen the negative effects on players, who are exhausted by the 10 minute mark. Thereafter, they're just trying to survive the remaining five minutes.
Fans are nowhere near as keen on a shorter overtime, believing that they will only lead to more ties than ever. Modern overtime rules were established in 1974, and since then, there hasn't been more than two ties in a single season.
NFL Media research provided some interesting information that supports fans’ views. Of the 83 overtime games in the last five season, 22 of them lasted at least 10 minutes into overtime. In those five seasons, five games ended in a tie. If overtime had ended after 10 minutes, there would've been 16 ties over five seasons. Basically an average of three ties, instead of one tie per year.
More aggressive play
Although the figures speak volumes, most coaches aren't convinced shorter overtimes will result in more ties. They have other concerns. In an article by Judy Battista of NFL.com, Houston Texans’ coach Bill O’Brien stated in March that because coaches coach to the clock, he “expects more aggressive play calling at the end of regulation and in overtime to avoid a tie.”
A shorter overtime could indeed take the anticlimactic add-on and turn it into something worth staying up late for. Currently, teams play overtime without a whole lot of urgency – the need to score is intense, yet the fire is no longer burning. In fact, the fourth quarter holds more excitement simply because teams still playing to win, not playing to avoid a loss. An imminent tie would be a threat, because as we all know, a tie can have a devastating effect a few weeks down the line. And that would certainly make for more aggressive play calling with teams desperate to avoid that dreaded tie.
‘Better’ teams missing the playoffs
A straight win holds value, a straight loss holds harm. But a tie can go either way. We, as fans, need something definitive. There is nothing more frustrating than three teams finishing the regular season 9-7 and one team heading to the playoffs simply based on a tiebreaker, instead of a head-to-head record. Moreover, that team would miss out on the satisfaction of making the playoffs based on merit. Chris Chase of Fox Sports used the Detroit Lions to demonstrate this point.
"The Lions had what we consider a successful playoff season with a 9-7 record while the Bucs were left disappointed with the same exact 9-7 mark that wasn't good enough for a spot in the postseason. It especially hurt because Tampa had great wins over Atlanta, Kansas City and Seattle while Detroit beat zero playoff teams, only going to the postseason based on the arcane tiebreaker of winning percentage in common games."
Another concern among owners is whether a shorter overtime will place too much emphasis of winning the overtime coin toss -- the offense could technically work on a drive that would eat up the entire 10 minutes. College-style overtimes would be the solution to this conundrum, but it seems no one wants the extra period to be played any differently to the rest of the game. In fact, as stated in Battista’s article, New York Giants owner John Mara and Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay feel ties are better for determining playoff spots and seeding than statistics, like point differential, being used currently.
Cutting five minutes off overtime won’t impact on players, whether in a negative or a positive way. It seems the biggest issue is the possibility of more ties as opposed to definitive conclusions at each game, and the chance of a less deserving team making the playoffs. However, there’s room for a change and there’s no harm in trying it out.