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You’re Doing Overtime Wrong. All Of You.

If overtime rules made any sense, Pats-Chiefs would still be going on, and it’d be awesome.

The world darkened a couple shades on Sunday as former Michigan mediocrity Tom Brady earned his 25th Super Bowl appearance with an overtime victory against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The overtime period, tritely referred to by many as “unfair,” played out quickly and boringly in accordance with the NFL’s dumb overtime rules. The son of noted former Twins pitching hero Pat Mahomes didn’t even get a chance to put a helmet on before the game ended. The outcome generated plenty of conversation and whining and copy+paste of arguments that take place after basically any overtime football game.

This all got me thinking: All your ideas are bad. There is a best way to do overtime, and only one sport is using it. Three bonus points if you figure out the in-article photo theme.

NFL Overtime Rules (Regular Season)

Short, likely inaccurate summary: Play one additional ten-minute period. If the first team to possess scores a TD, game over. If it’s a FG or no score, the other team gets a chance to possess. If the score is tied after the second possession, play goes on until someone scores or time runs out. Tie are allowed in the regular season!

Pros: Gameplay is basically the same in overtime as in regulation; the period starts in a normal way with the first-possessing team needing to do things like actually gain yards to score; quasi-sudden death makes for tension and excitement

Cons: Tom Brady makes it all about him and other team doesn’t get a chance to play offense; seriously, it’s common for only one team to get to play offense; can end in ties (note: ties are totally fine, don’t me)

NFL Overtime Rules (Playoffs)

Getty Images

Summary: One fifteen-minute period. Same quasi-sudden death rules as Regular Season. If it’s tied at the end of the period, start another fifteen-minute period. Do this until it’s all over.

Pros: Actually this is pretty close to my ideal; gameplay same as regulation; punters get to do things.

Cons: As you saw Sunday...Tom Brady gets all the glory and Pat Mahomes doesn’t get a shot; can theoretically go on forever, and if we’re good with the More Football Is Always Better Bowl we’ve gotta be fine with an unending overtime.

Canadian Football League Overtime Rules

Summary: (courtesy of MNWildcat) College-esque. Start at opponent’s 35, have to go for two if you score a TD. During the regular season, if the score is tied after 2 OT periods, game ends in a tie. In the playoffs, go until death.

Pros: Has the good parts of college football overtime rules (the tension that comes with near-endzone play, lots of scoring); forces teams to go for two right away; lets you see more plays with wacky CFL offensive strategy; lets you see former B1G heroes in all their technically-professional glory

Cons: It has all of the same problems as college football overtime (keep reading); can end in ties during the regular season, if hating ties is your thing.

College Football Overtime Rules (Always)

Summary: One untimed period. Each team gets a chance to possess the ball, and each team starts at the opponent’s 35-yard line. If it’s tied after two possessions, a new period starts with mirrored possessions. After three overtime periods, teams must attempt a two-point conversion after scoring a touchdown.

Pros: Basically guarantees action and scoring; allows Heisman candidates to pad their touchdown totals (e.g. Jonathan Taylor at Purdue); “How does my team win” is an easy question to answer

Cons: COLLEGE FOOTBALL OVERTIME RULES ARE THE WORST AND IT ISN’T EVEN CLOSE. I would rather Tom Brady win every overtime in history and for eternity on the first possession than CFB overtime rules stay in place. There are so many things that are bad about it:

  • Does not at ALL look like the game you play during regulation
  • Doesn’t involve kickoff or kick return plays
  • Doesn’t involve punting or punt return plays
  • Hurts teams that emphasize field position
  • Hurts teams that have a stingy defense
  • Hurts teams that have a risk-taking defense
  • Allows teams with a trash-ass offense to start in field goal range against excellent defenses...without having to put forth any effort
  • Pretends that ties are shameful

Look, we all agree College Football Overtime is garbage. Starting at the opponent’s 35-yard line, fully rested as if the defense didn’t make you work to get there? Rewarding teams who aren’t good at dumb things like the punting game and field position? It’s just so awful. The only “good” things it does are give kickers the spotlight and give each team a chance to score.

Basketball does an okay job with their overtimes, letting play continue as it did during regulation, but fouls and fouling out make it more complicated. Maybe you should get additional fouls in overtime before fouling out, even if you already fouled out? So if Jordan Murphy fouls out in the 4th quarter yet again, he gets to play the first 30 seconds of overtime until he draws his 6th foul. I dunno, workshop this idea in the comments.

Hockey and soccer have fun overtimes, with each playing a sudden death period (it actually works when both teams can easily score at any time) and then doing a shootout if it’s still tied after a while. They still do shootouts in hockey, right? College football’s problem is it skips the extra period and goes straight to the shootout part. That’s unsatisfying.

The Answer

It’s simple: The Major League Baseball way, sorta. Play a single overtime period with no sudden death aspect. If it’s tied at the end, it’s a tie in the regular season and the teams play another period with the same rules. Continue until it’s not tied at the end of a period. Baseball “overtime” can last until the next day and it does sometimes and it’s awesome.

Injuries and how brutal football is are concerns, although CFB apparently doesn’t share those concerns with its overtime rules. Maybe The Answer football overtime can be 10-minute periods to provide more frequent chances for a period ending untied during playoff overtime. And we would treat the end of an overtime period as if it’s the end of the first quarter; if the period ends during Wisconsin’s possession, the new period starts just as the last ended.

Unlike MLB, The Answer method doesn’t guarantee each team gets to play offense. If the first-possessing team can sustain a 10-minute drive and win with a field goal, the other team having never touched to ball, that’s a good thing! Certainly there’s nothing “unfair” about one team being able to possess the ball that long and score. Don’t like it? Either (a) let the other team score faster, or (b) stop the other team faster.

CFB rules aren’t that far from being mediocre. Back those possessions up AT LEAST beyond the 50, or even start the possession with kickoffs! Oooo or just play an additional period by the same rules as in regulation.

College Football is fun, and all of it is fun: Don’t use rules that keep punters out of the game.


Who Does It Right?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    The Answer is the best way
    (55 votes)
  • 15%
    I used to think CFB got it right, but your point about punters is SPOT ON. College has it wrong
    (28 votes)
  • 48%
    College Football gets it right and I’m a sheep
    (86 votes)
  • 3%
    Tom Brady being a successful Michigan grad in the NFL is a major part of my identity, so I love the NFL rules
    (7 votes)
176 votes total Vote Now