A High Time For New Overtime Rules
Is overtime in sports fair? The answer will depend entirely on the sport you're talking about. In hockey and basketball, where the puck is dropped or the ball is tipped, democracy rules. Both teams have an equal chance of possessing the puck/ball and more importantly, an equal chance of scoring.
Such is not the case in NFL football. Here the outcome has a lot to do with simple dumb luck. If you win the coin toss you have a decided advantage moving forward. Simply score a touchdown and the game is over.
As funny as it sounds the current convoluted system is a vast improvement on overtime rules of the past. Back then it was just whoever scores first wins but today the league attempts to give each team a decent chance of scoring (with a big asterisk here). Current logic states that both teams have an equal chance to possess the ball, provided Team A (who receives the OT kickoff) doesn't score a touchdown on the first drive. In this case Team B is S.O.L (look it up).
However, if Team A doesn't score a touchdown or only ends up scoring a field goal, Team B gets their chance to score (a field goal to tie it or a touchdown to win it). Regardless of these various caveats, Team A still retains a big advantage in the current OT format and when a trip to the Super Bowl rides that much on a coin toss you know the format needs to be altered.
College football, as a possible alternative, has a fairer system. Its OT rules state that both teams get at least one possession of the ball. Team A's offence gets possession on Team B's 25 yard line with the goal of scoring a touchdown or a field goal. Should they do that or run out of downs, Team B then gets their chance to score, with their possession on Team A's 25 yard line.
College overtime kind of works like a game of free throws from various positions on the court. Eventually someone scores and someone does not and the game is over.
Although superior to the NFL OT rules, the problem with the college rules is that it doesn't truly reflect the game of football. It puts all the emphasis on the offence and arbitrarily assumes they could make it all the way to the other team's 25 yard line. College defences don't really try to stop scoring as much as they just try to prevent touchdowns. Allowing a field goal is essentially a win in college OT. It's like shootouts in hockey and penalty kicks in soccer. They work, sure, but it doesn't truly decide the outcome of a team sport in a team way.
So how about this for NFL overtime?
Everything begins as normal. Team A wins the toss and tries to score as usual. If they don't score, Team B then gets possession and, at this point (since both teams have now had an equal chance at the ball) the first score (any score) wins. That part is simple.
But say Team A has possession and ends up kicking a field goal (or any offensive score for that matter). This is where the new rules kick in.
The basis of these rules are simply this: Team B gets whatever time or downs it took Team A to score (provided Team B keeps converting first downs to keep their drive moving). This can be best exemplified in Examples.
Example 1: Team A runs the opening OT kickoff for a touchdown. Team B would now have exactly that scenario to tie the game and extend overtime. Team A kicks off and Team B must score on the kickoff. One play, to match what Team A did to score.
Example 2: Team A gets first possession in overtime and take five plays to score a field goal. Team B would then receive the kickoff and would have a maximum of five plays to tie the game or win it with a touchdown. I say "maximum" because Team B would have to convert a first down for the chance at a fifth play. The maximum amount of plays Team B gets to respond depends on them converting first downs.
We want to have rules that allow for "equal" possession of the football and with this proposal each team would a bare minimum of one play with the ball. A team capitalizing quickly in overtime, forces their opponent to do the same.
While this may seem complicated at first glance, the only stats that need to be tracked are Team A's first drive (and only if they score). Team B, to extend overtime, simply needs a target to aim at. It's similar to the college rules in this regard. The difference is in the efficiency. Team B not only needs to score a touchdown to extend overtime for example, but also needs to score one within a certain number of plays. Thus each team will get exactly the same chance to score, which is exactly the point.
The three caveats to the rule are:
(1) ANY defensive score wins the game.
(2) The possession "mirroring" only lasts until Team B has had their first offensive possession and their first offensive chance to score, thus eliminating the imbalance of the current system.
(3) If neither team scores on their respective first offensive possessions, the game continues as usual until one team scores in any fashion.
Simple? Not exactly, but fair for sure and isn't that ultimately the most important consideration?