CLINE: Overtime is Garbage

Here's a great idea for improving college basketball. When a game is tied at the end of regulation, let's not extend the game by five more minutes and continue playing regular basketball. Instead, each team gets to inbound the ball in the half court for a possession, and whoever scores more on that possession will win.

And to keep things from dragging on, starting with the third possession teams can only take three point shots since those are tougher to make.

What's that you say? You think my idea is stupid? It would unfairly reward teams that are good at three point shooting and hurt teams that play a pressing full court game? Well, you're right. So if that idea would be laughed out of the gym if someone proposed it, why are we letting college football games be decided by an artificial setup that favors certain types of teams and leads to great games being decided on a lame gimmick?

Two of the most important games of the Southeastern Conference football season were played this past weekend. Both Arkansas-LSU and Tennessee-Kentucky were the kind of intense, down to the wire affairs that make college football so enjoyable for fans. Unfortunately, the reward for four hours of passion was for both games to be decided by someone failing to make a mandatory two point conversion. It's time to fix a poorly designed setup and make overtime football more closely resemble the rest of the game.

The most obvious way to solve the problem posed by college overtime is to do what the pros do and continue to play football. That means kickoff and punt returns and playing for field position are still part of the game. Currently, teams who excel in those areas are unfairly penalized by losing some of their strength in overtime. Make the one tweak the pros haven't (but should) by assuring both teams one possession so that a coin flip doesn't determine the winner and then go to sudden death after that. Having said that, let's assume that a switch to a true overtime isn't acceptable for whatever reason. There are still easy ways to improve the current version that should be looked at seriously.

Starting overtime posessions at the 25 makes no sense at all. Most teams have kickers capable of making a 42 yard field goal. Why should offenses get an opportunity at three points without gaining a yard? The starting position also favors teams like Arkansas who excel at a power running style of offense at the expense of teams who like to stretch the field. If deep pass routes are a key part of a team's offense, why should they lose out on having room to run them for the most critical posessions of the game? If the beginning field position was moved back twenty yards to the 45, teams would have to earn points in overtime. A field goal would actually be an achievement as opposed to an expected minimum outcome now.

Another issue with the 25-yard starting point is that it devalues defensive plays in overtime unless they result in scores. A perfect example comes from Tennessee's win over Kentucky. The Volunteers returned a blocked field goal deep into Kentucky territory at the end of the second Wildcats overtime possession. The Kentucky tackler who finally brought the Tennessee defender with the ball down was called for a fifteen yard face mask at the end of the return. During regulation time, Tennessee would have had possession around Kentucky's twelve. In overtime, the whole thing didn't matter. The penalty had no impact on field position for either team, and Tennessee didn't have the option of beginning anywhere but the 25. That needs to change - why allow free passes for cheap shot fouls after unsuccessful kicks? Providing a team that makes a great defensive play the option of beginning their next possession from the last possession's end would more properly reward defense and special teams play's role in the game.

In the interest of supposedly shortening games, the overtime rule was revised to require two point conversion attempts after all touchdowns from overtime three forward. That needs to change. Tennessee tied Kentucky with a touchdown in overtime three of their game. Kick the extra point and it's over, right? Since the "shorter game" rule forced Tennessee to go for two, that wasn't an option. The Vols failed on their two point try and wound up having to play an extra OT period - so much for shortening the game. My suggestion: only require the first team with the ball in overtimes three and on to go for two. If they miss it, then the other team knows the game is likely theirs if they score a TD. That might lead coaches to make different choices and look to settle things by taking their chance at a two in an earlier overtime, which actually WOULD shorten the game as opposed to pretending to do so.

The last thing about overtime that has to go is the way the statistics are kept. Overtime numbers should not count in overall statistical numbers. Not distinguishing Erik Ainge and Andre' Woodson's seven and six touchdown games from those of players who did not get repeated artificial short field possessions to pad their numbers makes zero sense. Darren McFadden added 31 total yards and a touchdown to his numbers in the Arkansas three overtime win over LSU, a benefit the players he's competing with for the Maxwell and Heisman awards did not get. All numbers used for records and awards should reflect only regulation time output.

Any overtime format is better than what we used to have in college football, with important games ending in ties a staple of many fall Saturdays. Hopefully sometime soon the coaching and administrative hierarchies will refine it into being a truer reflection of what goes on during games rather than the flawed setup we currently endure.

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