NFL overtime rules need equality like college, high school football | Marcase

John Marcase
Special to The Town Talk

The story is legendary.

It happened in the late 1990s at a Pineville High School football game. The Rebels were tied at the end of regulation and were about to begin overtime, which was still relatively new.

Starting at the 10-yard line, the Rebels ran the first play in overtime when The Town Talk’s sportswriter covering the game stepped onto the field to begin his interview of Pineville coach Mike Richard.

Fortunately, the reporter, who shall remain nameless, quickly stepped aside and prevented any disruption in play. Richard was so stunned that he did not unleash his well-known and salty vocabulary at the reporter, who will be covering the NFC Championship this weekend.

Football overtime on the high school and collegiate levels are similar for a reason. 

Kansas high schools were the first to implemet overtime in football in the 1970s. The National Federation of High Schools later adopted the format, which brought it to Louisiana in the mid-1990s.

College football soon followed, modifying the format slightly. The ball was moved to the 25-yard line instead of the 10. After several games of multiple overtimes, mandatory two-point conversions for touchdowns were added after three overtime periods.

The latest tweak came as a result of Texas A&M’s 74-72 win over LSU in seven overtimes in 2018

Now, in the second OT, each team is required to go for two after a touchdown. Should a third overtime be needed, teams alternate two-point conversion attempts until there is a winner.

Nov 24, 2018; College Station, TX, USA; LSU Tigers wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) is unable to make a reception as Texas A&M Aggies defensive back Myles Jones (10) defends during overtime at Kyle Field.

For every LSU-A&M overtime classic, there are others like Illinois’ 20-18 win over Penn State in nine overtimes last season. Neither team could muster a successful two-point play for five consecutive overtime periods!

No matter which format you prefer — high school or college — at least each team has an equal opportunity to possess and win the game.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the NFL. 

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In 2010, the NFL did change its overtime format. It shortened the regular-season period to 10 minutes and required the first team to possess the ball to score a touchdown to win without the other team getting a shot on offense. 

The OT periods in the postseason remained 15 minutes, but the first team to possess the ball is still required to score a touchdown in order to win without having to play defense.

Give the NFL credit for allowing some flexibility in a system that overwhelmingly favors the team who wins the overtime coin toss. However, it is still a highly flawed system. 

In the 11 playoff games to go to overtime since 2010, the team that won the coin toss is now 10-1 after Kansas City outlasted Buffalo, 42-36, Sunday in a true classic. 

The Chiefs were on the other end three seasons ago when the Patriots won the coin toss and the game, 37-31, to advance to the Super Bowl.

Jan 23, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) passing against the Buffalo Bills during the second half of the AFC Divisional playoff football game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

No matter how many LSU fans will be pulling for Cincinnati on Sunday against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game due to Heisman trophy winner Joe Burrow the start quarterback of the the Bengals, Kansas City and Buffalo proved they were the two best teams in the AFC.

Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Buffalo’s Josh Allen took quarterback play to another stratosphere in the shootout. It was clear neither team’s defense was going to stop the other team.

There are many valid reasons not to change the regular season overtime rules in the NFL, even with three games in Week 18 going to OT and all with playoff ramifications at stake. 

With so much at stake in the postseason, more change is needed. Perhaps do what basketball does and play an entire period, thereby eliminating sudden death. Or, allow both teams the chance to possess the ball in overtime before going to sudden death.

Anything would be preferable to a system that places so much emphasis on the toss of a coin, which referee Phil Luckett proved on Thanksgiving Day in 1998, even the NFL botches. 

As for the one team to lose an overtime playoff game in which they won the coin toss? The Saints, who fell to the Rams, 26-23, in the 2019 NFC Championship game. Of course, that game is remembered for an entirely different reason.

John Marcase is a former assistant managing editor and sports editor of The Town Talk. He writes a weekly column.