Picture this: Its game 5 of an MLB playoff series. At the end of 9 innings, the score is tied. The Crew Chief asks for representative players of each team to come to home plate for a coin toss to determine who will bat or pitch in “overtime”.  He throws a coin up in the air and asks the visiting team for heads or tails.  The visiting team chooses tails, but it is heads.  As the winner of the coin toss, the home team chooses to bat.  They enter the overtime period, the first batter up for the home team hits a home run and it is declared the winner without the visitors given a chance to come up to bat.

Now I ask you, is the above scenario fair?

Of course it isn’t.

The visitors team were not offered the opportunity to try and win the game in overtime.

But, according to Rule 16 of the NFL’s Official Rules, this is how all tied games are handled in football to determine the winner at the end of regulation playing time: with “a modified sudden-death overtime” via a “coin toss”.

To start with, it seems vastly unfair to let NFL games come down to “sudden death”, particularly during the playoffs which is a single elimination tournament.

Both teams should have the opportunity to possess the ball once during the extra period. Period.

It shouldn’t come down to: “Both teams must have the opportunity to possess the ball once during the extra period, unless the team that receives the opening kickoff scores a touchdown on its initial possession, in which case it is the winner.” (Rule 16, Article 3(a))

Unfortunately, this exact scenario happened to the Green Bay Packers two years in a row during the NFL Playoffs.

On Sunday, January 18, 2015, the Seahawks hosted the Packers for the NFC Championship Game. Green Bay led until Seattle mounted a comeback in the second half and tied it with seconds to spare sending it into overtime.  Then came the coin toss.

As Article 2 of Rule 16 states, overtime starts with a coin toss of which the visitors are allowed to make the call of heads or tails, and the winner picks if they wish to receive or kick off.

Unfortunately, the Packers lost the coin toss, Seattle chose to receive, and 6 plays later the Seahawks scored a touchdown to win and went on to the Super Bowl.

On Sunday, January 24, 2016 the Packers played the Cardinals during the NFC Divisional playoff game. Arizona mostly dominated the game, but the Packers managed to tie it right at the end of regulation when QB Aaron Rodgers threw a 41-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to send it into overtime.  Then came the coin toss.

The Packers were unlucky once again as the Cardinals won the coin toss and chose to receive the ball (of course). Just 1:05 into overtime, Arizona scored for a touchdown.  Game over.

Is this how NFL games should end up? By virtue of luck?

Now, granted, if Seattle and/or Arizona did not score a touchdown on the opening kickoffs of those NFC playoff games in overtime (or) only scored a field goal, the Packers would have had a chance to get the ball and at least tie each game with a field goal or win with a touchdown. (Rule 16, Article 3)

But none of that happened, because Rule 16 allowed lucky Arizona and Seattle to win on their opening drives via a touchdown.

Ironically, Rule 16’s current overtime procedures are an improvement from the Rules before 2010 in which the first team to score a point won in overtime.

In the end, it’s up to the NFL owners to decide. After all, they are the ones who vote on the rules.  They’ve certainly had their opportunities to balance out the playing field (pun intended).

Take last year’s NFL owners meeting when the Chicago Bears franchise introduced the idea of guaranteeing both teams possession in overtime.   Only 3 teams voted for it (24 must agree for passage of a new rule).

One of those that didn’t?

That’s right, the Green Bay Packers.

It makes me wonder why they would do that when a silly little Rule caused them to risk lost revenues a Super Bowl could have generated two years in a row.

Does this have to do with players’ health?

It certainly wouldn’t be fair to football players to keep playing one of the most grueling professional sports we enjoy for several more hours until a natural winner takes it like MLB does.

Still, if preserving players health is the motivation for creating an artificial sudden death ending of all NFL tied games, then perhaps every team should still be guaranteed possession of the ball for at least 1 overtime period (regardless of who scores a touchdown first).  Then, only if the game is still tied, allow for a sudden death period just to end the game.

In my book, it should come down to what the players think.

I’ll bet that for all the hard work and sacrifice they put in, for the dangers they put their bodies through, for all the sleepless nights wondering if they’ll ever get to the big show, they would prefer that their futures would not come down to the flip of a coin…



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