Earlier this week, I linked to an interesting auction-based proposal to help improve fairness in NFL overtime games. Right now, the coin flip gives the winning team a boost more often than not (the only exception is if the winning team mistakenly takes the ball but has a VERY weak offense relative to its defense, or, likewise, if the losing team has a VERY strong defense, relative to its offense).
The idea of the auction is to give each team “accurate” odds of winning by having them bid for the ball, using starting field position as currency. As you bid to start deeper and deeper in your own end, the odds of you scoring before your opponent drop. At some starting field position for each team (maybe around the 17 yard line), the odds should be close to fair for the two teams (50-50 if the teams are evenly matched). The auctions should settle near that point (neither team will want to bid with a worse yard line), unless teams estimate their chances poorly.
The field position that generates fair odds will differ by match up, which makes the auction pretty interesting. I’m a big supporter of a modification like this, but running an auction is probably not realistic. Instead, my buddy Tony thinks that the NFL should keep the coin flip and just force a starting field position that generates 50-50 odds for two evenly matched, average teams. The NFL might like this idea straightaway, since it eliminates more kickoff returns, which cause lots of concussions.
He’s surely not the first to suggest this, but in terms of fairness, it would get us closer than the current system. Let’s stick with the 17 yard line as an example. A team with a stronger offense than defense would rather have the ball at the 17 than give their opponent the ball at the 17, while a team with a stronger defense would want the reverse, but for fairly balanced teams, they should be indifferent between taking the ball or not. It would be great fun when a strong defensive team won the coin flip, gave the ball away, and lost. Everyone would second guess and coaches might get fired.
The yard line could also fluctuate from year to year based on trends in the league. For example, more protection for receivers has increased scoring over the past few years, so the yard line probably would have been moved back to accommodate the league-wide offensive improvement. The yearly announcement of the Overtime Starting Line (OTSL) would be another fun moment.
Everyone agrees that the current overtime rules are flawed – that’s why the NFL changed them for the playoffs. I think Tony’s approach is a good way to keep it simple, fair, and fun.