Why the NFL Needs to Change Its Overtime Rules

January 17, 2016 Updated: January 18, 2016

A coin toss essentially determined the winner of the Arizona–Green Bay divisional playoff game on Jan. 16. Is that what the NFL wants?

The way the league has its overtime rules set up—whichever team scores first wins, unless the team receiving the initial kickoff starts the extra session with a field goal instead of a touchdown—the role of the heads/tails coin toss is one of the most important parts in determining the victor. And just because the NFL has used a variation of these sudden-death overtime rules for years, that doesn’t make it the right way to do things. And it just cost the Green Bay Packers a playoff victory against Arizona.

Yes, Aaron Rodgers seemed like he was on the run all night against the Cardinals defense, but when it came down to it, they didn’t even get a possession in the overtime period because they guessed heads instead of tails—hardly a football play.

It makes no sense.

Imagine if Major League Baseball followed the NFL’s lead and extra innings were played with sudden-death rules. The visiting team would have an unfavorable advantage every time, just because they bat first every inning. Sound silly? It is. And it’s exactly the same advantage the winner of the heads/tails coin toss has in the NFL.

If the league is looking at a solution that gives both teams a fair chance to win, they should look no further than the NCAA. (Yes, this is the same NCAA that couldn’t get a playoff going until two years ago. But even a broken clock is right twice a day.)

In the college game, teams start with the ball at the opposing team’s 25-yard line. They either score a touchdown, score a field goal, turn the ball over on downs, or commit a turnover (the defense can’t score). Whatever the team that starts each overtime session does, the opposing team gets a chance to match. If the opposing team ties it, we go to another overtime session. If not, the game ends. After three sessions, teams have to go for the 2-point conversion.

It takes out most special teams and field advantage becomes a moot point, but it’s more fair than the current setup and more feasible than doing a whole 15-minute quarter of play and hoping one team is ahead of the other at the end of it—the game would be too long.

If the NCAA can finally adopt a real playoff system, the NFL can adopt a real overtime system. It’s time they did.