Published on January 29, 2010 9:15 PM by dbo.
I have been promising to write a post on my analysis of what is wrong with the CFL overtime format for a long time. I had started formulating a draft for publishing this off-season and coincidently, the CFL announces they are accepting fan suggestions on rule changes with a focus on overtime this year. What great motivation to finish this article.
The CFL has asked for answers to three specific questions on overtime changes, as well as whether the overtime format needs changes at all. Since implementing the “shootout” format ten years ago, the CFL has experienced feast or famine in its overtime games. Overtime sessions have had matching scoring on all possessions, resulting in complaints of too much scoring and too long of games, or sessions where neither team can score, leading to comments about bumbling teams. Unfortunately, the overtime period is going to reflect the game, and defensive battles will sometime continue into overtime with teams trading field goal attempts. No format will be able to affect the actual play on the field.
Before proposing a new overtime format, changes to the existing format or deciding to leave the rule as-is, one must understand the history and requirements of the overtime period. Then you can try to correct any deficiencies in the rules while still meeting all the goals required.
The Canadian Football League first introduced overtime for regular season games in 1986. The format of two 5-minutes halves with no sudden death was also adopted for playoff games (changed from two 10-minute halves). The overtime mini-game followed the same procedures as the regular game: a coin toss and selecting ends and possession, each half started with a kickoff, teams switched ends at the half. From the 1991 Official Playing Rules for the Canadian Football League:
Rule 1 — Section 8: Tie Game
If the score is tied at the end of the second half there shall be a two minute intermission followed by an overtime period consisting of two five minute halves. Prior to the start of the overtime period the captains of both teams shall meet the Referee at centre field to inform him of their choices. The captain of the team winning the coin toss shall declare whether he wishes to have first choice at the start of the first or second half of the overtime period.
The game timing rules that apply in the last three minutes of a half shall apply during the last minute of each half of the overtime period. There shall be an interval of 90 seconds at the end of the first half of the overtime period.
In the event that the score is tied at the end of the overtime period the game shall be declared over and each team shall be awarded one point in the standings.
If the game is a playoff or championship game and a winner must be determined, the same procedure shall continue in consecutive ten minute overtime periods until a winner is declared. There shall be a ten minute intermission before the start of overtime and between any subsequent overtime periods.
From 1986 to 1999, 39 CFL regular season games went to overtime in this format, with six games ending in ties over this 14 year period. In the previous 14 year period from 1972 to 1985, 29 games ended in ties when no overtime period was required.
The overtime rules remained basically unchanged until the league adopted the current format in 2000. The new “shootout” or Kansas Plan-style format consisted of four possessions per team in 2000, but was reduced to two possessions per team in 2001. The same format was adopted for playoff and Grey Cup games. From the 2009 Official Playing Rules for the Canadian Football League:
Rule 1 — Section 8: Tie Game
In the event that the score is tied at the end of the second half of a game, each team will be given the opportunity to score using the following procedure:
- The first team, as determined by coin toss, shall scrimmage the ball at the opponent’s 35-yard line and may advance by consecutive series of downs until it makes a score or loses possession.
- The second team will then scrimmage at the same 35-yard line and proceed as above.
- If the score is still tied, the procedure shall be repeated at the opposite end of the stadium.
- A winner is determined only if both teams have had equal opportunities to score.
- If a winner is not determined after two attempts the game will be declared a tie.
- If the game is a playoff or championship game and a winner must be determined, the same procedure shall continue until a winner is finally declared.
From 2000 to 2009, 35 CFL regular season games went to overtime in this format, with six games ending in a tie over this ten year period.
There is no formal, official list of requirements overtime is meant to meet, but we can try to glean them from statements in media discussions on the overtime format.
One can see why the “shootout” format was adopted to try to meet these requirements. In the first year of this format, with four possessions per team to break the tie, the league found that more games than expected were going to the third and fourth possessions, making overtime games take up to an additional 45 minutes to complete. This was resolved by reducing the possessions to two per team, but I feel this change was the simple route when the complete detail of the format should have been examined.
I have a few issues with the current overtime format:
To correct these issues, I propose the following overtime rule:
In the event that the score is tied at the end of the second half of a non-playoff and non-championship game, each team will be given the opportunity to score using the following procedure:
In the event that the score is tied at the end of the second half of a playoff or championship game there shall be a five minute intermission followed by a fifteen minute overtime period. Prior to the start of the overtime period the captains of both teams shall meet the Referee at centre field to inform him of their choices. The captain of the team winning the coin toss shall choose between:
The same procedure shall continue in consecutive fifteen minute overtime periods until a winner is declared. The captain of the other team shall have first choice at the start of the second period, and team captains shall continue to alternate first choice at the start of subsequent periods. There shall be a five minute intermission between any subsequent overtime periods.
This is really a framework. I am not tied to the details like number of possessions, except I would like to see them increase. I chose three as a compromise to see games that go the distance complete earlier. I chose to leave the initial round of possessions at the 35-yard line and move subsequent rounds if required back 10 yards. The starting point and amount to move back could be adjusted. I chose to require a two-point conversion on the third possession. I could accept this applying to earlier or all possessions.
For playoff overtime, I chose a non-sudden death 15-minute period as a compromise over two ten minute halves. Some may believe that this compromises the game and favours the coin-toss winner. I believe as it is not sudden-death there is only a slight advantage to the coin-toss winner and still some strategy over choosing possession or ends. For sudden-death games, it better maintains the integrity of the game as a continuation of play and allows last minute drives to win the game to still occur.
How do these rules address the requirements?
Other changes I may consider:
Changes I would oppose:
These are my thoughts to add to the debate and discourse on this subject. Maybe you agree, maybe you have your own new format. Please feel free to express yourself here, I’m open to well thought out suggestions and I may decide to back yours. Overall, it is important to voice your own opinion to the CFL on this subject, whether it is to back this or another proposal or the need to not change anything at all. The popular suggestions will float to the top and they may be workable into a better overtime format.