By In Football

Coin Flips and Hail Marys

From NFL SportsWorld:

The NFL is a league of contrasts. There are a million rules but most, by the league’s own admission, are not officiated to the letter. There are dozens of penalties but most, by the league’s own admission, are not called. There is an intensive, slow motion replay system used to make sure that calls are precise and correct but, as we often say here, the most basic measurement of the game is still made using a link chain and the rough estimate of an official 20 yards away.

Contrasts. The key, I think, is perception. Football fans have to believe, rightly or wrongly, that behind the quirks and oddities and honest efforts, there is an integrity to the sport — that is to say, people need to believe it’s fair.

With that in mind, I’m just not sure how much longer than can keep making an overtime coin flip such a critical part of who will win playoff football games.

Read my story: Wonder of it all

41 Responses to Coin Flips and Hail Marys

  1. Dave says:

    The link doesn’t work (for me at least)

  2. Doug French says:

    Great read, Joe.

  3. Doug French says:

    After watching this scene I know I need to watch that movie.

  4. simeon says:

    You left out, of course, the part where the Packers had a chance to win the game on their own merits right after the hail mary, There never needed to be a coin flip. But, they decided to kick for 1 rather than go for 2.

  5. Mark Daniel says:

    I agree with your take on the OT rule. If they gave the kicking team a chance after an opening drive TD, and they tie the game, the OT then reverts to sudden death. So it’s still a bit unfair, but it’s not like college where each team gets a possession over and over and over. I don’t think games will be extended for hours because of this.

  6. Pete says:

    Each team get a possession starting at the spot if their average starting position. Bring special teams and turn overs into it.

  7. David says:

    Joe, you said there were two coin flips in overtime. To be pedantic, there was only one – the first one was a coin TOSS, the second a coin flip. I don’t think you can call it a coin flip if the coin doesn’t… you know… flip.

  8. Schuxu says:

    Maybe they should determine the would-be winner of an overtime cointoss before the game. That way teams have a chance to alter their late game strategy in order to avoid the OT. As the Packers could have gone for two and thus avoided giving the ball to Arizona.

    • Repleh says:

      If there was a blanket rule that the visiting team starts OT with the ball, you could do exactly this in every game. Could be home team — you just need to know what the rule is so you can strategize.

  9. Faye Schlift says:

    In the 1969 NBA draft Phoenix lost the coin flip to Milwaukee. Phoenix picked 2nd and chose
    Neal Walk. Milwaukee took Kareem Abdul Jabbar. The season after that Milwaukee won the NBA title.

  10. Jerry says:

    I don’ understand why NFL doesn’t change the OT rule so that there is a 5th quarter. If game is still tied after 15 minutes in regular season,game is a tie – like under present rules. In playoffs, it then becomes sudden death

  11. Frog says:

    May as well do imperfect and random properly. Dueling field goals. Starting at the 30 yard line and backing up by 5 or 10 yard each attempt until one kicker misses. Dumb as penalty shootout in soccer but that seems to work ok so why not.

  12. I think, of course, what was missing is something Joe brings up all the time. Player safety. That’s a big factor. Because of player safety, OT creates extra concerns because already tired players are potentially more exposed to injury. So, the NFL is using a rule that tries to be fair & also keeps OT as short as possible. That compromise is what leads to the current rule. I think the balanced record shows that it’s not out of line in terms of fairness. It’s not 100% fair, of course, but it’s not that far off. And, it does give the team without the ball the opportunity to play defense and stop the other team….. or at least force them to kick a field goal & give your offense an opportunity. If they don’t do that, you can’t say they didn’t have a chance. If their defense is poor and unable to stop the other team’s offense, who’s problem is that? My old adage in these cases is “if you don’t like the result, or think it’s unfair, then get better”. The answer to winning in OT is to get a better defense that can stop the other team. If you do that, you will get your opportunity to win. If you do it really well, i.e. a 3 and out, you can even get good field position and set yourself up to drive 15-20 yards and kick a field goal to win the game.

    I’m totally good with the NFL system for breaking ties. The College version is somewhat better (certainly better for watching), but it can lead to long Overtimes & safety issues. Also, the special teams kick/coverage aspect of the game is totally lost, negating some of the fairness to teams that are good at special teams….. in addition to negating the effect of really good defense. Even if you stop the other team, they are likely to have a relatively easy Field Goal attempt anyway to stay in the game.

    • Chris says:

      “Its not 100% fair…” That is precisely the point Joe is making. 2 teams play for 60 minutes and end up tied, and the solution is something everyone acknowledges is unfair. I understand your point in saying, they should just play better defense, however you are ignoring the fact that you are not requiring both teams to do so. All they need to is give each team a possession and then go to sudden death. That isn’t some massive change that will impact player safety any more than playing extra time already does.

      • Well, I’d just say the teams had a chance to win in regulation too, and they didn’t. If you let it go to OT you have to know that you might leave part of the result to chance. A small part, but a chance nonetheless. I just don’t get hung up on 100% fair. It’s close enough for me, call it 95% fair. If my team gave up a 75 yard play on the first play of OT, I’d be pissed at the defense, not at the coin flip or the OT rules. The Packers whiffed on a lot of tackles during the Fitzgerald run. Give Fitzgerald credit, but the Packers could have tackled him or covered him in the first place. Or, sacked Palmer. They didn’t, so they lost. It’s not like the sky fell open and gave Fitzgerald a yellow brick road to the four yard line.

      • mark says:

        An obsession with 100% fairness is unhealthy. That doesn’t mean we should maximize unfairness, but we’re better off when “That’s not fair” as an ongoing refrain is something left behind with your 10th birthday.
        This rule balances safety and fairness. it’s not perfect. Deal with it.

        • invitro says:

          Bravo. Also: it should be obvious, but a 35-32 edge does NOT mean the flip is not 100% fair, any more than a 34-34 result would mean the flip is 100% fair. This is basic, freshman probability.

          • Chris says:

            I’m kind of shocked that some you regular readers are fine with the current rules. I understand the safety concern and being “okay” with it, but logically it just doesn’t make much sense regardless of the outcomes thus far.

            People would be out of their minds if extra innings in baseball were played as sudden death.

            The “play better defense” suggestion doesn’t add up either because that statement is all predicated on who wins a coin flip. Why aren’t both teams tasked with “playing better defense”?

            I don’t think this is an obsession with 100% fairness, its that the current rules don’t really make any sense from a competitive standpoint

          • invitro says:

            Logically it -does- make sense. And your analogy is a fallacy; baseball and football fans want different things.

          • Chris says:

            The baseball analogy was meant to illustrate that extra innings in baseball are a logical continuation of the game. This is the same as in basketball. And at least with the shootouts in hockey/soccer both teams are given equal opportunity to score and defend.

            Please explain that logic of football overtime rules. Especially in an era that is so slanted to the QB/offense.

            I would venture to guess that you are in the minority here in terms of what fans want. Maybe Joe can run a poll, but my guess is that “both teams get at least one possession” would win in a landslide.

      • Mike says:

        The enemy of better is best.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      Player safety may be a factor but, at least in the regular season, I suspect it’s more about TV. CBS wants to get to 60 minutes; the networks don’t want the games bleeding over into their prime time schedule any more than it already does. Maybe the player’s union negotiated this, but I think game length is an issue for the NFL for reasons other than player safety. But I don’t see how giving each team the ball once would make that much difference in the length of the games because in many games the first team with the ball doesn’t score anyway.

      The fact is, if the NFL was really concerned about player safety, they wouldn’t have overtime at all. The NFL lived with ties for years and, while I understand that, in today’s culture, ties are considered to be the worst possible thing, it would certainly be better for the players if there was no overtime at all (except, obviously, in the playoffs). Overtime was part of a host of rules that was put in during the 70s in response to concerns about the game becoming dull at a time when defense and ball control ruled. Goalposts were moved to the back of the end zone to ostensibly make field goals harder (although it hasn’t worked) because there were lots of 16-3 games. And, of course, the rules loosening up the passing game had the most effect. The NFL doesn’t really care all that much about player safety; it’s much more concerned about putting on a good product for TV and the fans. If you really cared, you certainly wouldn’t have Thursday night games or games in London. To the extent the NFL has instituted rules to protect the players, it’s almost entirely in response to the lawsuit and subsequent bad publicity the league has gotten for the deaths of retired players. If it wasn’t for that, the league would not have changed a damn thing.

  13. manimalof7 says:

    Posted this on the Facebook link to this as well, but they should make OT a continuation of the 4th quarter. If the 4th ends with 3rd-and-8 from the 42, OT starts at 3rd-and-8 from the 42, going the same direction. No coin flip needed.

    • The problem with this is that it would incentivize the team with the ball in the final minute, to run their normal offense regardless of the clock. I’m not talking about teams in scoring position already, but teams outside of scoring position. They’re back on their 25 yard line with a minute left. Ordinarily they’d be presented with the interesting option of running the clock and going to OT, or going for a score & taking a risk. With this rule, there’s no decision to make. You just run your normal offense. Time expires when it expires and you keep the ball in OT with an opportunity to score first in OT.

      • Dan says:

        And what is wrong with this? If the game is still tied then it does not end. Keep playing until it is untied. The odd thing (for football) is everyone decides a “new” game must be played to settle the tie. But why?

        Consider how unfair it is for a team to give up a tying score at the end of the game. The other team had the ball and scores. Possession should change! Yet instead there is a coin flip to decide who gets the ball and this gives a 50-50 chance for the team that just scored to get the ball again. How is that fair?

      • manimalof7 says:

        While I agree that some excitement of a team trying to beat the 4th quarter clock to score a tiebreaking FG would be eliminated, I’ll sacrifice that to get rid of the coin flip stupidity.

    • Ed says:

      This is a good suggestion, and I was thinking along these lines. My idea was to always give first possession going into OT to the team that did NOT have possession when regular play ended. The beginning of OT would automatically turn over the ball. This keeps an element of strategy, and its fair in the sense that the team with last possession in regular play had the last chance to score, they couldn’t get it done, and now have to turn over the ball. Or they did score, leaving their opponents with the ball, and they are rewarded by making their opponents turn it over.

  14. Jeff says:

    Love the No Country for Old Men reference. Anton Chigurh was such a wonderfully terrible creation. There should be a rule that Javier Bardem plays all the bad guys. His slightly homosexual turn as the villain in Skyfall was incredible as well. I’ve always felt like the owner of the gas station was one of the great bit characters. I don’t know who the character actor is/was, but he was just brilliant. Just watched the other day and I had chills and wanted to hug that poor old dude.

  15. invitro says:

    Since the record is 35-32, which is as close to 50%-50% as you could ask for this sample size, it seems truly bizarre to get bent out of shape over any “perceived” unfairness. Facts are what -should- matter, not perceptions, as much as possible. The US and world are getting in trouble now because of political emphasis on opinion being more important than fact. Let’s not contribute to it. The evidence shows that the flip is fair enough. There are other solutions that might be a tiny bit more fair, but their drawbacks apparently outweigh the benefits to the people who matter — the NFL players & staff, and the fans.

    If the record was 52-25, I’d agree with you.

  16. Dan says:

    I like how the CFL does it, which is a lot like college except you start from the 35, it’s a maximum of 2 exchanges , after which it’s declared a tie (unless it’s the playoffs), and you HAVE to go for the 2-point convert if you score a TD. Fun times, fair, and usually quick.

  17. KHAZAD says:

    I think it is much better since they made the rule that it has to be a TD on the first possession to end the game. If you hold the team out of the end zone, the advantage switches to the team that lost the coin toss. Even if the first team kicks a field goal, the second team has the advantage of really getting 4 downs for every first down in their attempt to tie and win.

    That being said, I have ALWAYS felt that the home team should get the choice (which would be to receive 99% of the time) in every game. Call it part of home field advantage. Both teams would know how things were going to start in the case of OT from the beginning of the game, and it might make for some interesting end of game decisions. For instance, the Packers could kick to tie knowing full well that the Cardinals would get the ball first, or they could go for two and win or lose the game right there.

    In the Super Bowl (should it ever happen), there would still be a coin toss, but I would propose that if that rare chance happened, they should play a full quarter. (It is for a championship after all) If the game was tied at the end of the quarter, it would revert to sudden death, but without interrupting the game – the game would just keep going from the same down and distance just like the end of the 1st and 3rd quarters. If it made it to the half, (which in all likelihood will never happen) the opposite team would start by receiving just like in regulation.

    • Chris says:

      I actually like your idea. Its certainly better than the coin flip. At least going in both teams know the outcome and can make the appropriate end of game decisions.

    • Ed says:

      Always giving the ball to the home team at the beginning of OT also would work, as the normal part of home field advantage.

      And in the Super Bowl? It would be determined by a coin flip. But the coin flip would occur before the game, to see which team is the “home team”. That way going into the game, both teams would know who would get possession should it go into OT, and adjust their strategies accordingly.

  18. Daniel says:

    This is a good suggestion, and I agree with you.

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