An auction beats a coin flip.

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)



Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

5 responses to “An auction beats a coin flip.

  1. ArchDawg

    Or, how about another timed period (not as long as a real quarter, though), where you play under the actual same rules that you have been playing under for 60 minutes.


  2. Brian

    Why not just take the college rule-set but start at the 35 instead of the 25? That way each team doesn’t get a nearly automatic field goal.


  3. Hobnail_Boot

    I LOVE that proposal, but it’s way too outside-the-box for the NFL to adopt.

    Also, aren’t NFL rosters 53-deep?


    • Also, aren’t NFL rosters 53-deep?

      That’s the total roster size, true. But that’s not the number allowed to suit up and be eligible for a game. I know that’s less than 53. On the other hand, I confess that I don’t follow the NFL requirements closely (or the NFL at all, for that matter), so it may be somewhere in between the number I used and 53. Anybody know the current number?

      In any event, it’s considerably less than the number of kids that suit up for a D-1 team on game day.


  4. sUGArdaddy

    I’ve never understood why the NFL doesn’t just give each team at least one possession. That way, if you’re an offense-driven team (see AZ Cardinals) you’re not punished for the coin toss. If you lose the toss and the other team goes down and scores a TD or FG, you at least get the chance to do the same. That would change strategy with teams as to if they even wanted the ball back.

    After each team has one possession, all bets are off and it’s sudden death. That just seems like an almost perfect scenario. All facets (kickoffs and punts) are part of the game, you can’t blame a coin toss, and there is still a sense of urgency. The college system is fun, but it punishes you if you built your team on strong special teams because, besides FGs, that part of the game is obsolete in overtime.