Online Exclusive: Alternate tiebreakers for NFL

On Sunday, Nov. 11, a travesty occurred in the National Football League. After the completion of 60 minutes of regulation play and the passing of an additional 15 minute overtime quarter between the Saint Louis Rams and the San Francisco 49ers, the game ended and no winner was declared. The game was declared a tie. In the history of the NFL less than 20 games have ever ended this way, since 1989 this game was only the fifth. Ties happen so rarely in the NFL that the last time a game ended in a tie in 2008 (Eagles vs. Bengals, Nov. 16) the Eagle’s starting quarterback Donovan McNabb admitted in a post game interview he wasn’t aware that regular season games could end in a tie. Regardless of how rare they are and how many ESPN standings graphics will now have to include a “Tie” column, another problem with ties in the NFL exists. To put it simply, ties in the NFL are un-American. Of the “big three” American sports — baseball, basketball and football — the NFL is the only league that allows regular season games to conclude in a draw. Baseball and basketball both maintain continuation rules, meaning that if an OT period or inning also concludes in a tie another period is played and so on until a victor is found. Elections can’t end in a tie, war doesn’t end in a tie and even “American Idol” has tiebreaker rules in place (the lead judge gets the final say in a 2-2 split by the way), and so if the NFL really wants to take its place as the premiere American sport the current rules that allow a tie must be changed. After ranting and raving about this travesty of American sport with my Sunday afternoon viewing club we came up with the following suggestions to fix the NFL so this never happens again. Some may be more outlandish than others, but regardless of how ridiculous they may be, the bottom line is that they would fix a major problem in the NFL.

Playoff Rules ““
The easiest and most logical conclusion, the NFL already maintains a similar “continuation rule” to the MLB and the NBA in the case of a playoff game, where a winner is absolutely necessary for the structure of the playoffs. Playoff rules and regular season rules shouldn’t be different, and in this case extending the playoff rules to the regular season would be the easiest solution to the problem without any chance that the new rules would “ruin the game” as they have already been implemented within the league.

Kicker “Shootout” ““ I am admittedly not much of a soccer or hockey fan but I have to give both sports credit for their the use of penalty shootouts. Whether or not you find the low scoring, continuous play of either sport enjoyable is a different argument, but I don’t know if any sports fan could find the drama and tension of these tiebreaker methods anything less than enthralling. Adapted for the NFL, Kickers could start both attempting a 10-yard chip shot, than a 20, a 30 and so on until one team’s kicker makes it and the other doesn’t. Even if the kicks were performed without a defense rushing them, the pressure of an entire stadium watching a kicker attempt a 50 or maybe even 60-yard kick should be an exciting enough way to avoid a tie.

Flip a coin ““ It may sound an insignificant and arbitrary solution to the problem but bear with me. The process already determines who receives the ball first, and in the previous “sudden death” style of OT play in the NFL, many argued it was the way games were decided as the team with the ball first had a high likelihood of kicking a reasonable field goal to win the game. In FIFA rules, ties can be determined by the “drawing of lots,” and at least flipping a coin sounds like a process from this century and not how arguments were settled in biblical times. Even if it wasn’t a coin and thousands of fans watched the two head coaches play best two out of three rock-paper-scissors, at least fans would be more satisfied than watching a tie.

Quarterback “Shootout” ““ Similar to the penalty kicks idea with the quarterback receiving more of the pressure and praise, each team would be given four downs within the red zone. Score a touchdown in only two downs, the other team must match it to continue or do it less plays to win. This procedure would keep the spirit of the QB leading the team and should be quick enough that CBS and the other networks won’t have to push their Sunday dramas back too far in the case of the game extending over its time slot.

Kickers at 20 paces ““ If a game in the NFL does end in a tie the likelihood that the kicker from one or both teams messed up is quite high. With OT in the NFL reverting to a sudden death situation after both teams have been given a chance at the ball, some kickers will most likely shanked it far left or right either in the fourth quarter or during OT. NFL kickers shouldn’t miss routine kicks, or at least fans don’t expect them to, and so to appease fans and not have to pay benefits after firing their starting kicker, is an old fashioned “duel” really that barbaric? Elections have employed similar tactics and with the number of concussions the league inflicts upon players, it might not be the worst exit from the league.

“I can throw farther than you can” ““ I am sure you’ve been a part of similar competitions of strength at your own backyard games, but in the spirit of quickly determining a winner using skill rather than luck, this could actually be a great option. Line both quarterbacks up in the end zone and the farthest throw, spotted by a sideline judge, wins the game. Intense, quick and gives fans the sense that their QB is somehow “quantifiably better” than the other team’s QB.

Penalties ““ If the NFL really wants to take a stance against unnecessary penalties, unsportsmanlike conduct, late hits, etc., why not make the winner the team with the least penalty yard? The other suggestions in this list may seem barbaric, so this one is the complete opposite and awards teams for playing “clean” football as much as possible. Maybe not a fan pleaser, but at least its more logical than “after 75 minutes of play, nobody wins.”

Judge/Announcer Decision ““If it works for boxing, maybe it could work for football? If after the OT period the game is still tied the officiating crew or maybe even the announcing crew (fans appreciate their opinions more than referees honestly) could decide by committee. Yes, it would be controversial and highly contested, but isn’t that what drives ratings? Ties sure don’t do anything for ratings.