When it comes to overtime, the NFL previously has decided not to let perfect be the enemy of good. Now, the league may be reverting to awful.
Buried at the bottom of an item on the league’s official website regarding the possible expansion of replay review to roughing the passer calls and non-calls is a bombshell that merits its own major headline: Overtime could revert to true sudden death.
The league adopted modified sudden-death overtime in 2010, after the Saints advanced to the Super Bowl with a decent kickoff return, a few first downs (two of which were sparked by questionable defensive penalties), and a walk-off field goal. Currently, a field goal on the first drive of overtime gives the other team a chance to match, with sudden death happening on the first drive only if a touchdown is scored. If anything, the league should consider allowing the team that lost the coin toss a chance to match any score (especially in the playoffs), given the manner in which the rules have become skewed toward offense.
So why would the league choose not to make overtime procedures more fair but to turn the clock back to the days when the toss of a coin had a gigantic impact on who won and who lost? Given that the league already has reduced overtime from 15 minutes to 10 minutes in the regular season in order to prevent a team from, for example, playing 75 minutes on Sunday and another 75 minutes four days later, the move to re-embrace true sudden-death overtime could (emphasis, could) be part of laying the foundation for more short-week games.
So why would there by more short-week games? Well, in order to maximize the revenue potential from in-game betting, which will explode once the technology eliminates all latency from the stadium to the living room, the NFL needs more stand-alone games. It will make tremendous sense when in-game betting arrive to get away from having eight or nine games at 1:00 p.m. ET and moving them into as many unique spots as possible.
For now, the windows consist of three on Sunday (a fourth could be added at 9:30 a.m. ET, for London games), one on Monday, and one on Thursday. Some expect that the next wave of TV deals will make more liberal use of doubleheaders on Monday nights, creating another stand-alone game.
Although Fridays and Saturdays are off limits from Labor Day through mid-December as part of the broadcast antitrust exemption (don’t be shocked if the NFL eventually tries to make that go away), Tuesdays and Wednesdays remain available, and were used in 2020 due to the pandemic. It becomes impossible, however, to give every team seven days between games on a regular basis if the schedule hopscotches around from Sunday to Monday to Tuesday to Wednesday to Thursday. Ultimately, there could be a five-day gap or two to go along with the four-day short week that most teams currently endure once per year. Six-day gaps would become much more common, too, if a team plays on (for example) a Wednesday and then a Tuesday (and then a Monday and then a Sunday).
While a full embrace of what would be nine windows per week may be several years away, there’s no better way to clear the deck for any impediments to more short-week games than to adopt now a set of overtime procedures that would lead to shorter games.
Is it fair? Nope. Will it matter if the objective is to maximize revenue arising directly from enhanced gambling opportunities? Nope. Given the money to be made from in-game betting, it’s impossible to rule out a return to the days when, if the game was tied after 60 minutes, they’ll just call it a tie and move on.