There’s been a lot of grousing lately about the NFL overtime scheme, because the team that wins the coin toss has a statistically significant likelihood of winning the overtime. The statistics show that in the past season, in the 14 overtime games that produced a winner, the coin-toss victor won 10 of the games, consistent with the overall trend since 2002, which shows the team winning the toss also winning the game more than 60 percent of the time.
So, what to do about it? Most observers like the college overtime format better, because each team gets a chance, unlike the pro version. But it’s questionable how good a multiple overtime format would be for a 45-man roster NFL franchise. Honestly, as much as I enjoy the tension of the college format, I’m not sure how good it is to have a multiple overtime format for the kids, either.
Well, how about this:
… An even more elegant solution to the overtime problem was proposed in 2002 by Chris Quanbeck, an electrical engineer (and Green Bay Packers fan). Quanbeck’s idea was to auction off possession of the ball in the natural currency of the game: field position. The team that was willing to begin closest to its own goal line would receive the privilege of possession.
Football’s number crunchers reckon that this “privilege” turns dubious about 15 to 20 yards away from your own goal line. That is, the expected value of having the ball so far back is negative—it’s more likely that your opponent will score before you do. But it’s not clear that the same would be true in overtime, when teams would be attempting to get within field-goal range rather than trying for touchdowns. If this system were implemented, it might take a couple of seasons for a consensus to develop about how far back is too far back. Still, everyone would be trying to work that out from a position of equal ignorance.
The auction idea puts the emphasis on the skill and judgment of the head coaches and their backroom staff—exactly where it should be. And it has some subtlety. For instance, having a powerful defense has an unexpected advantage in an auction: Because the other coach will fear your defense, he’s more likely to drop out of the auction and concede possession to your offense in a favorable field position.
Pretty cool, huh? Aside from the strategic wheels that would be spinning, how dramatic would it be to watch the coaches facing off (of course, I can think of some coaches who might prefer to throw something harder than a flag – at the other coach) on the overtime call?
You can read the details of Quanbeck’s proposal here.
(h/t Smart Football)