How to improve OT coin-toss rules

January, 25, 2010
1/25/10
2:27
PM ET
The first comment left on the most recent 49ers item had nothing to do with the 49ers.

It had to do with rules governing overtime.

The Saints' victory over the Vikings in the NFC title game Sunday marked the latest overtime game in which one team -- Minnesota, in this case -- never held possession after regulation.

I've generally preferred the current overtime setup to the college version ensuring an equal number of possessions. The NFL version isn't always fair, but it's dramatic. "Sudden death" is a fitting title.

If I have a problem with the current rules, it's the arbitrariness of a coin toss deciding which team gets the ball first. Winning the coin toss does not ensure the outcome, of course. It's still pretty arbitrary, though, and it's sometimes unsatisfying when a team wins the coin toss and scores right away.

I'd like to throw out a couple of alternatives:

  • Make it merit-based. The team that came from behind to force overtime would be able to receive or defer. Or, if that seemed unfair, the team that last held the lead would be able to receive or defer. Either way, teams would head toward the overtime period knowing whether they were likely to receive an overtime kickoff. Teams might adjust their strategies late in regulation, opening up head coaches to additional second-guessing (always a good thing for the rest of us, right?). The end of regulation might become more dramatic because teams would know the stakes. Perhaps the team that lost the lead late in regulation would have more incentive to go for the win instead of kneeling on the ball and taking its chances with a coin toss. Teams would also have more control over their fates in overtime.
  • Consolidate coin tosses. Under this model, the team winning the pregame coin toss could make a decision that would also affect its options entering overtime. Perhaps any team choosing to receive the opening kickoff would have to forfeit such rights entering overtime. I don't like this model as well as the merit-based one.

Thoughts? Please do poke holes in either of these if my logic is flawed. And if you have other alternatives, please share them.

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