Only a relatively small percentage of NFL games ever make it into overtime (the Pittsburgh Steelers have only played in five since 2013), but when you’re in overtime, you’re certainly going to care about the circumstances under which it is being played.
The league has tinkered with overtime a fair bit over the years, seemingly doing everything but the obvious to make it fair. They adopted a rule in 2010 that precludes a team from achieving victory with a field goal on an opening drive, but it still has a sudden-death effect if they score a touchdown.
While the NFL is reportedly considering reverting back to a true sudden-death overtime in which the first team to score wins the game—assuming anybody scores in the allotted time—one key aspect could be significantly altered: the coin toss.
Reportedly, the Baltimore Ravens are set to submit a pair of proposals that would fundamentally change how possession is decided. Essentially, one team chooses where the ball will be spotted (within reason, of course). The other team chooses whether or not to take possession from there or play on defense.
If the first team chooses to spot the ball from the offense’s five-yard line, for example, how many teams are going to choose to take possession from there, rather than risk going on defense to try to get a stop and start with better field position?
It’s an interesting idea that, to the best of my knowledge, has never been tested in theory. One of the proposals would see the game end in a sudden-death fashion, but the other proposal would require an additional 7:30 to be played, with the winner being whoever is leading at that point.
Personally, I think there’s no way that this proposal is adopted outright, but it sounds ripe for a preseason experiment, assuming of course that there even is a preseason. I would love to see how this plays out in practice, partly because it’s so foreign to how we understand the way things work in the game.
My preference will always be for an overtime rule in which both teams have the opportunity to possess the ball at least once, regardless of what happens on the opening drive, but this proposal solves one major issue about fairness: possession is decided by via strategy, and not the luck of the coin.
The winner of the coin toss would have the choice to either spot the ball or determine possession. If they choose possession, it would obviously behoove them to choose to receive, as the other team would obviously then choose the best possible field position for themselves if the first team chose to start on defense. Of course, if they choose offense, then the other team would choose the worst-possible starting field position. That makes it highly likely that in most cases, the coin toss will determine who spots the ball.