Unnecessary Rule Changes

November 26th, 2010

Back in March, I decided not to say anything, but this morning I read an article at Slate.com that awakened something in me.  Maybe it all comes down to me not understanding statistics, but I don’t think so.

Here’s the background.  Until now, NFL games that are tied after regulation begin a “sudden death” period.  The game is restarted as it was in the beginning, with a coin toss.  The visiting team can call ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ and the team that wins the toss is awarded first choice of the options.  (At the beginning of the game teams may choose to kick off in order to receive the kick at the start of the second half, but in overtime there is no second half.)

So, what’s the problem?  You kick to me, I play offense, you play defense, i advance, you try to stop me, maybe I score, maybe you score.  Seems fair to me.

The new rule, in place only for the playoffs this year basically keeps the same system with one addendum: If the initial drive results in a 3 point field goal, then the game continues allowing the second team an offensive opportunity.

So, you get penalized for only kicking a field goal, but worse the game might end not with the clock running out, or with a score, but with a missed 4th down attempt.  And how do you deal with turnovers, especially fumbles, when possession might end the game.  That’s doesn’t do it for me.  It’s an awkward rule that attempts to fix something that isn’t broken.

Well, somebody disagrees with me.  The argument goes that if the team that receives the ball marches down the field and kicks a long field goal, then the coin flip decision of who gets to be on offense first plays too great a role in the outcome of the game.  From what I understand from NFL.com this has happened only three times in the playoffs.  That doesn’t seem to me like a crazy horrible trend that needs to be fixed.   They have even crunched the numbers.  They team winning the coin toss has won on their first possession 34.4% of the time.  Which I read as 65% of the time, both teams get to touch the ball.  But remember, some teams score touchdowns on that possession, so the percentage of times a team looses to a field goal with out touching the ball is actually lower than that 34.4%.

One of the reasons this has become an issue is that over the past two playoffs, first the Colts and then the Vikings lost overtime games without their famous quarterbacks getting to touch the ball.  Well, I’ve got no sympathy for Payton Manning or Brett Favre in this one.  They both had 60 minutes, just like everyone else, to score more points than the other team, so you can’t say that they didn’t have a chance.

TANGENT: Lets look at it another way: there are virtually no two-way players in the league today, so of the 45 players on the game day roster, they are either offensive or defensive players with the exception of a couple of kickers.  Lets say that’s 20 each for the offense and defense.  I can also generalize that most special teams players are not offensive or defensive starters.  So lets say you line up your kicking team, and then send you defense out onto the field.  It’s a safe assumption that something like 19 or 20 different players are already involved in play, and once you start factoring in defensive substitutions that number goes up, and passes the 50% of game day players mark.  If this is a team game, than it seems sufficiently fair to me that more than half of a teams players are involved in the action.  END TANGENT

There are voices out there calling for a system like the NCAA uses in the college game where each team gets a set of downs from the 25 yard line to score.  They alternate like in a soccer or hockey shootout, or extra innings in baseball until one team comes out on top at the end of a pair of chances.  It’s used in both hockey and soccer only after extra time has not helped to find a winner.  In baseball, it in fact is just a continuation of the 9th inning, neither adding or subtracting aspects to the game.  In football, however, it completely removes the kicking game from the field.  While it’s not called offense or defense, rather ‘special’, it still holds a critical place in the sport of football.  Most philosophers of the game will tell you that football is as much a game of field position and clock management as it is of running and passing.  I can’t tell you how many times, as a Bears fan, I’ve watched our offense progress up the field only because of our defense and special teams.

I think that’s enough rambling for today.

I’ll leave it with this: Why break something that didn’t need fixing?

And these:

“Pre-Game Coin Toss Makes Jaguars Realize Randomness Of Life” from The Onion

Coin toss hits Urlacher in the Helmet

The Drawbacks of the NFL OT Proposal from Harvard Sports Analysis Collective

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