A Comprehensive Ranking of Overtime Formats in Major Team Sports

A Comprehensive Ranking of Overtime Formats in Major Team Sports

Submitted by stephenrjking on March 5th, 2019 at 3:50 AM

You are on the edge of your seat. The clock dwindles toward zero. The game is on the line.

Every play

Every pitch

Every shot

Every moment

All of it, charged with anxiety and intensity. The last efforts to win or to hold a lead, futile. And then you hear that word that induces excitement and terror:


reimagining overtime: a proposal

reimagining overtime: a proposal

Submitted by ecormany on March 28th, 2010 at 10:50 AM
as has been widely publicized, last week the NFL passed a rule change that implements a "modified sudden death" format for overtime, but only in postseason games.  it's caused a lot of hubbub over something that won't see the light of day until at least December, and may not come about for years.  based on data from the 2000-2007 regular seasons, about 6% of games go to overtime.  each season there are 11 playoff games, so there's only about a 50% chance (1-(0.94^11)) that this rule will be invoked in a given postseason.  the reason for test-driving this non-starter rule only in the playoffs is daft: marginally increasing the odds of playing an extra series or two leads to a greater chance that players will be injured.  if hypothetically playing maybe a few more minutes once every few years if you just so happen to make the playoffs and tie in regulation is that dangerous, we should be declaring ties after regulation. or proposing to shorten games to 40 minutes. or playing two-hand touch. that line of reasoning just doesn't hold water, especially if the NFL ever goes to an 18-game regular season.

so, despite the fact that the NFL rule change is so much hot air, the one thing it does accomplish is that it reopens the debate on how overtime should be handled.  there seems to be general consensus that pure sudden death is stupid and broken.  the college OT system—equal possessions from the 25—is better, but has never seemed perfect to me.  here are my primary gripes with it:
  • the 25 is too close.  starting every possession in field goal range encourages conservative play.  the only way to not have a legitimate shot at 3 points is to take a long sack or two short sacks/TFLs (out of 3 plays!), or to give up a turnover.  lots of overtime games turn into field goal penalty shootouts.
  • no special teams. overtime strictly pits offense versus defense.  got a great punter? return man? too bad, they're sitting on the bench.
  • no game clock. college overtime is nearly 15 years old, and every time i see a score bug sans game clock, it still weirds me out.  this makes overtime play slow and deliberate.  the NFL's sudden death OT suffers from the same problem, with the philosophy "pretend it's the 1st quarter again".
so what can be done to fix these (admittedly minor) problems?  here's my proposal.

use an equal-possession system, because this is the only way to ensure fairness.  but, instead of starting each possession from an arbitrary line of scrimmage, begin each possession with the defense kicking.  a regular kickoff would pin the other team far too deep, and lead to long, defensive overtimes, the opposite of what we want.  my solution is to have the defense take a free kick from their own goal line.  the average result should be the offense starting around midfield, but a good return can yield a significant advantage.  this solves both the special teams and the 25 yard line problem.  the other modification would be to put 2:00 on the game clock at the start of each possession.  each team will still get 1 timeout per OT.  the presence of the game clock should encourage quick, risk-taking play.  ground attack teams that like having the option of grinding out a touchdown in 9 meticulously-planned plays under the current OT format won't have that option...but is that such a bad thing?

anyhow, those are just some ideas that i've been kicking around for a while, and think could work well and make for pretty compelling OT football.  would you want to see them implemented in the NFL? the NCAA?  i'm interested to hear comments.

OT: OT (as in "overtime"... specifically "NFL overtime")

OT: OT (as in "overtime"... specifically "NFL overtime")

Submitted by Dan Man on January 25th, 2010 at 3:07 AM

My apologies if this has been discussed on these boards before or if it is all over espn (I wouldn't know because I canceled my cable). But I wanted to vent about the stupidity of the NFL sudden death overtime.

The NFC championship was basically decided tonight by a coin flip. Maybe some would argue that the Vikings defense had their chance in OT to stop them, blah, blah.... If two teams are evenly matched enough that regulation ends in a tie, I do not believe that one team driving 40 yards and kicking a field goal, without the other team getting a chance, shows the superiority of the winning team. In fact, in a high scoring game both teams would average more than 3 points per possession, and thus a 3 point OT drive for the win would actually be unsuccessful drive according to that game's standards.

Anyway, I know that luck always plays a part in every game, but in this instance the NFL could change its rules to eliminate how big a part luck plays. The OT coin flip gives one team a huge, unearned advantage. The NFL needs to do it like college. That is the fairest way. So, congrats Saints. Way to pick heads or tails.

[Edit: I loved the "each team must get at least one possession" idea discussed in the comments. Actually, I think I like it even more than the college overtime system.]