Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tim Harford on NFL overtime

At Slate, economist Tim Harford lends support to the "auction" suggestion for NFL overtime.

As it stands now, possession on OT is determined by a coin toss; the team that loses the toss has to kick off from their own 30-yard line. But that's too big an advantage for the receiving team. From 2000 to 2007, Brian Burke reports that teams winning the toss won 60% of games.

Harford suggests that the 30-yard line was appropriate back when the rule was created in 1974, before field-goal kickers got so good. But now, it gives too much of an advantage to the flip winner.

He suggests, as did Brian before him, that the teams themselves decide what yard line is fair. One way to do this is to flip a coin again; the loser of the flip picks a yard line, and the winner of the flip then decides whether to start on offense (at that yard line), or defense (where the other team starts at that yard line).

Another possibility is an auction. The referee will start naming off yard lines, starting at the 1 and moving up. As soon as one of the coaches is willing to take the ball on offense at that line, he throws down his challenge flag.

Either one of these options sounds reasonable to me. I prefer the first one, because, after a few tries, there will emerge a consensus wisdom on what the right yard line is, and what looks to be the fun drama of the auction will get boring pretty quick. Plus, you might need a replay to see which coach was first, if they both choose the same outcome.

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At Thursday, January 29, 2009 4:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a small correction for you: current OT rules are for a kickoff, not receiving the ball at the 30.

Overall, I am a big fan of either the divide and choose or auction formulae.

At Thursday, January 29, 2009 7:42:00 PM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

Oops! Thanks very much. Now corrected.

At Thursday, January 29, 2009 9:09:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Ross said...

I dunno, it seems to me that overtime comes up infrequently enough that either of those choices are going to confuse players and fans, maybe even coaches too.

Why not keep overtime exactly as it is, except if the team receiving the ball first scores on its first possession, the other team gets one possession to try and match or beat the score just made?

At Wednesday, February 04, 2009 10:42:00 PM, Blogger birtelcom said...

Personally, I prfer a solution in which the game simply continues from the possession, down and yardline as it was when the first 60 minutes ended. This allows the teams to preserve their earned levelof win probability that they had generated as of the end of the game. The downside is that it would probably encourage longer games, because teams with possession would feel less urgency to score by the end of regulation, but it seems the fairest solution to the overtime possession issue. The various divide and choose and auction solutions are certainly elegant though. Even simpler might be to start overtime at a yardline that is more reflective of the current spot where the average teams will have an equal win probability. I believe that is currently about the 10 yard line, the spot where on the whole modern offensive and defensive teams begin with an equal chance of scoring first.


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