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Hot Reads: What If There Were No Field Goals in Overtime?

January 31, 2019

Changes could be coming to college football's overtime rules. According to a report from Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press, the football oversight committee will consider changes to the format at its annual meeting in Indianapolis near the end of February.

“The overtime process is really not broken,” said Steve Shaw, the national coordinator of football officials. “It’s just when you go beyond two (overtime possessions), it’s too much.”

Last season's Texas A&M-LSU seven-overtime marathon appears to have focused the committee's attention on the more extreme examples the current system can produce. The Aggies' 74-72 win over the Tigers required 56 additional plays, 31 for Texas A&M and 25 for LSU.

Russo notes in his story that only about 16 percent of all overtime games in an average season go beyond two overtime periods, but the oversight committee will consider alternatives anyway. And there's no shortage of those. Moving the ball back from the 25-yard line, eliminating place kicking (i.e. teams have to go for touchdowns) and just making it a 2-point conversion shootout after two full overtime periods are mentioned by Russo.

Nobody's asking, but I favor eliminating field goals as the easiest option. Would that help reduce the number of games that go beyond two overtimes? I'm pretty sure it would, and if it doesn't reduce that number enough after a couple of years in practice then more extreme measures could be taken.

I prefer that alternative because it puts the most weight on the major building blocks of football––blocking, tackling, running and passing. Nothing against kicking, but just in terms of the number of plays it's a comparatively smaller part of the game.

College football's overtime, which was instituted in 1996, has always been an interesting hybrid. It's not just an additional period like you see with basketball. Football doesn't have the frequency of scoring to make that totally feasible, but it is the purest form for settling a tie at the end of the regulation––you just play more. (Baseball gets by with this method, too, though it frequently results in marathons.)

The college football method––known as the Kansas Plan at the high school level as a former director of the KSHSAA invented it in the 1970s––is more similar to penalty kicks in soccer, however. Penalty kicks are plenty exciting, for some people its the only part of soccer they like, but it's also a format that's feels foreign from the 120 minutes that led to it. It would be like deciding a double-OT basketball game with a game of knockout at the end. I'd watch that, but I'd also feel like I was watching a concentrated version of the skills required, skills that are better balanced if diluted. 

The genius of college overtime is that it does a pretty good job of bridging the gap between the pure and concentrated methods for settling a tie. It's a little bit of both. Overtime is often a lot of fun, but still feels mostly like football.

And I think you could play with the ratios there at least a little bit. How concentrated should we make this? How concentrated should it be? More than the length of overtime, the biggest improvement the college game could make (for me, the person who doesn't have to play those additional snaps) is reducing the advantage of the team that wins the coin flip.

Take out the opportunity to settle for a field goal in overtime, and I think you do that. It would reduce the advantage of going second because both teams have to achieve the same goal. Right now, there's no decision to be made after an overtime coin flip. The winner always goes last. A 50-50 proposition, winning the toss, results in a disproportionate advantage. Without field goals, however, coaches would have a decision to make. Some might want their defense on the field first. Others––and I think this would be Scott Frost's category––might prefer to get a score and apply the pressure to an opposing offense.

It's a slightly more interesting version of a subset of the game that's already pretty interesting. Does it need changed? I don't necessarily think so, but if that's where the committee is heading how about we make an improvement instead of just a change?

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