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The NFL’s “Overtime Problem” Is Overstated

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Despite flaws with the current system, a full elimination of overtime would be misguided.

Back in May, NFL owners approved a rule change reducing the overtime period from 15 to 10 minutes, claiming the change would help improve player safety. The revision sparked discussion among NFL media and fans, some of whom spoke out against the existence of regular season overtime at all.

The frustration with the NFL’s rule tinkering is understandable and it’s starting to feel like the league will never get its overtime period right. However, the complete elimination of overtime in the NFL would be extreme, as the reasons for removing overtime are often overblown and unsubstantiated.

Many critics of overtime believe its removal will help decrease the amount of injuries. But, while it is true that less playing time would mean fewer injuries, the reduction in injuries would be less than you’d think.

In the 2016 regular season, 13 games went into overtime. In those games, there were seven recorded instances of a player leaving the game due to injury during overtime. Of those seven, four players returned to action the very next week. In addition, three of the seven injuries occurred in the last five minutes of overtime, meaning they wouldn’t have happened under the league’s new 10-minute rule.

Overtime Injuries In 2016 Season

NameWeekTime left in overtime when injuredGames missed
K.J. Dillon611:4210
Duke Ihenacho811:540
Morgan Moses86:530
Niles Paul84:118
Vontaze Burfict8:460
Stephon Gilmore1610:031
Jay Ajayi161:550


*All information via ESPN.com

Furthermore, opponents of overtime want players to have as much recovery time as possible before their next game. This idea is primarily focused around Thursday Night Football, which many believe is bad for the NFL due to the increased injury risk and a worse on-field product.

In reality, the injury rate for Thursday Night Football games is actually lower than the rate for other games in the week. Yes, players may feel their bodies need more time before taking the field on a Thursday, but the numbers show they aren’t any more prone to injury than they would be otherwise.Image title

Another common justification for eliminating overtime is that doing so would reduce ties. From 1998 to 2011, the NFL saw just two tie games. Since the introduction of the now well-known “modified sudden death” overtime in 2012, there have been five ties, two of which came in the 2016 season.

Naturally, NFL followers grew upset at the influx of ties and blamed the system. Focusing the blame on the rules makes sense, but the cause of these recent ties may be simpler than that. In the NFL’s last three tie games, kickers missed game-winning field goals of 36, 34, 28, and 24 yards in OT. If these kickers simply made the chip shots they were supposed to (looking at you, Chandler Catanzaro and Steven Hauschka) there’s a good chance we aren’t having this discussion about overtime at all.


Another perceived upside of eliminating overtime is that it would force coaches to be more strategic at the end of games. No longer would coaches have overtime to decide a tie game’s result after regulation, and would instead be more inclined to go for the win given a late-game opportunity to do so.

While the idea seems plausible, it is purely based on speculation. If an underdog scores a late-game touchdown after being down by seven, will they really go for two and the win? Or will they be happy to kick the PAT and take a tie against a superior opponent? There’s really no way to tell how head coaches would react in a hypothetical situation, so to assume they would always go for the win is ill-founded.

Besides, the above scenario has presented itself countless times under the current rules and very rarely results in a two-point conversion attempt. Coaches almost universally opt to tie the game and put their faith in a coin toss to give their team the ball again, which seems foolish when they can control their own destiny and go for two. This pattern of behavior is unlikely to change significantly even if overtime was gone entirely. 

To be clear, nobody is praising the NFL for its overtime format. In a perfect world, the NFL’s overtime rules would be more like college football’s – completely fair and highly compelling at the same time. The bottom line is that the supposed problems with overtime are either based on misconceptions or would not be solved with the elimination of overtime. A change of this magnitude should serve to correct a glaring issue. Right now, there is no issue large enough to warrant such a substantial revision of the rulebook.

Edited by Emily Berman, Coleman Gray.

SQuiz
When did the NFL introduce overtime for regular season games?
Created 7/26/17
  1. 1969
  2. 1974
  3. 1980
  4. 1987

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