Gutman: NFL needs to rethink tie-breaker system

My eighth grade gym teacher always used to make us play multiple overtimes in our P.E. soccer games to decide a winner. We never tied. “A tie is like kissing your sister,” he would declare. “Now find a winner.”

Granted, Mr. McCabe is probably in jail for pedophilia; as I recall, he hit on every girl in my class. Or incest for kissing his sister — not sure about you but I wouldn’t really know how it feels to kiss a sister. But apparently Mr. McCabe does. He was a real creeper.

Which brings us to the issue of another Mc who kissed his sister this weekend. Donovan McNabb.

His Philadelphia Eagles played to a tie with the Cincinnati Bengals this past Sunday. Yes, a tie. In football. Exactly. You’re probably thinking: Allowing football games to end in ties makes less sense than microeconomics. And you’re almost right. Professional football’s overtime rules are extremely dumb. But nothing makes less sense than micro. Except maybe macro.

In professional football, a coin toss determines who receives the ball first during overtime. The team that scores first wins the game. So basically, a coin toss determines who wins the game. If nobody scores during the 15-minute overtime, the game is declared a tie. It reminds me of my friend’s philosophy on his nights at Toad’s — if you don’t score in the first 15 minutes, it’s over.

College football’s overtime rules are more fair. Each team gets the ball one time from the opposition’s 25 yard line and must score the most points it can with that possession. When one team outscores the other, the game is over. No team can lose without touching the ball, as can happen in the pro game. Also in college football, nobody can tie, since they just move to a second round of overtime if the two teams are tied.

College football upholds the purity of the game. Despite its faulty championship system (which is for another column, another day), college football at least decides that each team will have a winner and a loser. Never a tie-er. College football understands the rivalry and the animosity inherent in sports. Nobody wants to go home without a W, even if they got a T.

Basketball understands it. Who doesn’t love seeing 19-year-old kids jacking up three-pointers in the fourth overtime after all the starters have fouled out? Hockey understands it. People get bored of overtimes, so the NHL instituted a shootout to decide games. Shootouts rock. Ties don’t.

But the NFL is far too greedy to examine any change to their overtime rules. The reason the current system is in place is to keep the overtime for games as short as possible. The first-to-score system means most overtimes last only one possession. The limit of one overtime prevents games from running over by several hours. The NFL values its television contracts and ability to ensure that the 1:00 p.m. game ends before too much of the 4:15 one has taken place. The NFL cares about this more than it values the quality of its game and overtime system.

And why should they care? Even if the Super Bowl came down to a snake vs. mongoose fight or a mascot rock-paper-scissors matchup to decide the overtime winner, America would watch the NFL. America loves football. (Granted, the rock-paper-scissors tournament might disadvantage the Miami Dolphins, whose mascot, T.D. the Dolphin, only has flippers. He always chooses paper, even when he tries to do scissors.)

But maybe the NFL does have a soul. Maybe Commissioner Roger Goodell is concerned about more than money when he protects the game’s image and suspends players. Maybe there is more to the NFL than a desire to obtain the most sponsorship money.

But then again, we’re talking about a league that places games on the “NFL Network,” which most Americans do not get on their cable packages. They essentially extort money from any fan who wants to see their team’s biggest games at the end of the season by forcing them to order this superfluous channel. The channel’s exclusive broadcasts serve no purpose other than to help the NFL squeeze American fans for every penny they can get.

So maybe not.

Or maybe the NFL should just make Mr. McCabe the commissioner. If nothing else, he’d change the busted overtime system before the cheerleaders union filed a class action suit.

Collin Gutman is a junior in Pierson College.


  • dsimon

    I hate the college football tiebreak system. Hate it.

    It ruins all the tension and takes away strategy at the end of a close game. Why go for two points on a last second touchdown when you can go for one and send the game into a bunch of escapades on a short field?

    I also don't buy the argument that it's unfair in the pros that one team might not get its hands on the ball. If the kicking team's defense can't stand up, tough. That's part of the game. Live with it. (Teams with good defenses might even choose to kick off in overtime since they'd get a good shot at better field position if the defense holds early.)

    Also, all the stats in college overtime are included for individuals and teams. What looked like a high-scoring game or impressive individual totals are often not, but you'd never tell by looking the stats summary.

    Most of all, ties are good because they make some of the best stories. With The Game in a mere two days, it's the 40th anniversary of The Tie. Though it's still painful for Yalies who didn't even live through the experience, I can't think of a better ending--an ending that would never have had the opportunity to occur had the present system been in place.

    Boo college overtime. Yea ties!

  • fmj

    The NFL overtime rules don't need to be changed. That game was the only game to end in a tie in over six years. John Clayton of ESPN wrote an excellent article regarding this. I suggest you read it.

  • Joe

    What if the nfl just gave the ball to the team that asks for worse field position? If a team wants to start at their own 8 yard line it's because they either have great offense or want to put their opponents in good field position. That way if you get scored on right away it's your fault for not asking for worse field position.