The Football Overtime Debate – College is Ahead of the Pros on This One

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless about whether college football or the NFL has a better system for overtime.

It is the end. This has quietly been an issue for sometime now, really ever since the NCAA introduced its current set of overtime rules back in 1996. The argument picks up steam every time a key NFL game goes into overtime. It happened after the first round of the playoffs when Arizona beat Green Bay in overtime (though not as big of an issue since the Cardinals returned a Packer fumble for a touchdown). It became an even bigger issue after the NFC Championship game between New Orleans and Minnesota when the Saints defeated Minnesota by a field goal to advance to the Super Bowl, despite being thoroughly dominated on the stat sheet by the Vikings. After watching that game, I was even more convinced that the best form of overtime used in football is the system used in college.

It is not that I believe that the college overtime system is perfect. It is definitely not. I think starting at the 25-yard line of the opponent is too easy. But when comparing it to the sudden death format showcased in the NFL, it is easy for me to choose the college way.

In the past decade, 158 games went into overtime in the NFL, including playoff games. Of those 158 games, 96 of them were won by the team that won the coin toss, meaning the coin toss winner also won the game 61 percent of the time. My South Georgia education tells me that the loser of the coin toss only won 39 percent of the time. I think that is a decided advantage. I would take those odds. It also makes the coin toss at the beginning of overtime one of the biggest plays in the game. There is a good chance one team is not going to touch the ball, which is exactly what happened in the NFC Championship game. How fair is that?

Meanwhile, in college, both teams get AT LEAST one chance to touch the ball. They have AT LEAST one chance to score. The way the current system is set up, each team is actually in field goal position when they begin their respective possessions in overtime. The games often go into extra frames of overtimes and that adds to the excitement.

To this day, one of the most thrilling games I have ever watched on TV took place in 2001. I was in college at Valdosta State University and was home on a Saturday night watching football with my buddies. We sat on the edge of our seats watching a seven overtime game between Ole Miss and Arkansas. None of us had any rooting interest in either team, but we sat in amazement as Arkansas finally won 58-56 in a game that actually was a defensive struggle through four quarters.

The bottom line is that the overtime system in college football gives both teams a chance to win. It is not without flaws but it beats the alternative presented by the NFL.

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