The overtime rule continues to be the dumbest, stupidest, most indefensible rule the NFL has on its books. Giving a coin flip more power than Tony Soprano has now deprived us of a satisfactory ending to two pivotal games this year -- Jets-Patriots in Week 11, when the Patriots and 401-yard passer Matt Cassel never saw the ball in overtime after a heroic fourth-quarter comeback, and Colts-Chargers, when we didn't get to see the NFL MVP even play in the fifth quarter because it was a one-possession overtime.
It is true that winning the coin toss gives the receiving team an advantage. Since kickoffs were moved back to the 30-yard-line, receiving teams win overtime games about 60% of the time. Prior to the move it was about 51%. As you can see, winning the coin flip is a pretty big deal.
The problem is that people are idiots about college overtime where winning the coin toss matters nearly as much. (Note: One of the consequences of the focus on the NFL's overtime is that it is very difficult to find stats about how the coin toss winner fares in college overtime. If anyone finds a reliable stat, please pass it along). The team that wins the coin toss in college always elects (properly) to go on defense first. The reason for doing so is that it gives your offense an informational advantage, as they will know exactly how much they need to score. If they only need a FG, they can play conservatively and minimize the risk of a turnover. If they need a TD they can repeatedly go for it on 4th down, something that you would never see if they had no such advantage.
The college overtime is exciting, but it's incredibly unfair.
The best possible overtime has been put forth repeatedly by our friend Michael David Smith first here, and then again today:
The solution is this: Let one team determine where the overtime kickoff will take place, and then let the other team choose whether to kick or receive.
I've been arguing this for years, and my idea hasn't gone anywhere, but I'm going to keep at it. They don't even need to have a coin flip. Just say that the road team picks a yard line, and the home team picks whether to kick or receive. Right now, the overtime kickoff is at the 30-yard line, which benefits the receiving team. But what if they moved the kickoff by 20 yards, to the 50-yard line? Or by 40 yards, all the way to the other 30-yard line? All of a sudden, receiving wouldn't be an advantage anymore.
The NFL, of course, will never implement this rule. But it should. A coin toss followed by the words "game over" is no way to conclude a playoff game.
This idea should be implemented tomorrow. No one can claim that it's unfair. If you want the ball first, you can get it...at a price.
Just remember, the next time you here someone claim that the college overtime is better because it's not "decided on a coinflip" that it is, in fact, decided on a coinflip. The auction is the way to go.
Update: More here:
The win probability is almost the same in each period: a little over 0.52. To put this in perspective, it's a smaller advantage than a team would have if they could start a game with a 1-point lead (0.53 according to the footballcommentary.com Dynamic Programming Model), and is a much smaller advantage than the coin-toss winner has in the NFL's current sudden-death format, which we estimate to be 0.57. Still, a coach who mistakenly selects the first possession after winning the coin toss lowers his team's win probability by more than 0.04, which qualifies as a major coaching blunder. For those whose distaste for sudden death derives mainly from the importance of the coin toss, the NCAA format would not appear to be a good substitute, particularly when there are alternatives that truly render the coin toss irrelevant.