Sunday, February 03, 2008

Fair Division of First Possession for Football Overtimes

An article....


In the National Football League (NFL), games ending in a tie are determined by sudden death overtime where the first team to score wins. Sudden death is an efficient means to decide a game which is violent and exhausting.2 However, the sudden death nature confers a significant advantage on the team who has the first possession. While the outcome of a coin flip to determine first possession is ex ante fair, immediately after the toss it is no longer fair because the winning team has a significant chance of scoring on its first possession. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has said that “There has been a trend in the last seven or eight seasons that the team winning the toss in overtime wins the game. That advantage of receiving the ball first is becoming unbalanced.”

An interesting point. We aren't supposed to be resolving the outcome with a coin toss. We are deciding FIRST POSSESSION with a coin toss, and the teams are supposed to play out the result, sudden death.

But if winning the coin toss is (nearly) tantamout to winning the overtime, then what is the point?

I think hockey, soccer, and basketball have much fairer systems for resolving ties. And baseball can be excruciating, but there is no question you get your shot in "overtime."

Football is the outlier, all right.

(Nod to KL)


Erich said...

I like the idea of bidding on field position to determine first overtime possession. I may want the ball if I'm starting on my 25 yard line, but would be more interested to open with defense if the other team is willing to start on their own 17 yard line.

Erich said...

Ok, I read the article after my comment, but I think it says the same thing with a bunch of fancy math, and then implies this is a good idea outside of football.

So maybe they just need a quick TV friendly way to run the auction. Or maybe somebody like Division II, NFL Europe (nevermind), or the CFL can try it out first.

Dirty Davey said...

My proposed solution is to make the "fifth quarter" a continuation of the fourth. That way the possession is determined naturally.

The only issue I see with this approach is when a game is tied late in regulation, and there's less incentive for the team with the ball to hurry and score. But it would be more "fair" than a coin toss.

Christoph said...

Or if the team that won the toss scores first, then the other team would be given another possession. If the team that lost the toss scores first, then the game ends immediately. That way, both teams would be guaranteed the same number of possessions in overtime.

Shawn said...

...kinda like the ncaa does it?

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