NFL wants to increase player safety? Try cutting OT altogether

Pittsburgh Steelers' Maurkice Pouncey. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Earlier this week the NFL announced the shortening of regular-season overtime periods from 15 to 10 minutes.

The NFL would have you believe this is a move made to increase player safety. But will it? Let’s take a look at some numbers.

Since 1974, 560 games have gone to overtime. That’s an average of about 13 per year. But most don’t even get to the 10-minute mark. Overtime periods usually last around seven minutes.

Last year there were 60 plays that happened after the 10-minute mark of the six overtime games that lasted that long. And even that is an unusually high number as in some previous years it’s been five plays for the entire season.

For comparison’s sake: There are around 32,000 plays in an NFL season. Cutting 0.2 per cent of the plays out of a season (on the high end) won’t help anything.

Yes, you could make the argument that players can be more likely to get injured as they get tired and games extend beyond their normal runtimes. But if it’s so concerned, why wouldn’t the NFL consider cutting overtime altogether?

Overtime games in general happen six per cent of the time. Why can’t we just settle for a tie in those cases?

More ties are not bad. They actually help tiebreakers at the end of the year. Major soccer leagues have ties, and they haven’t impacted popularity or completive balance.

Besides, losing overtime won’t necessarily lead to many more ties as teams will speed things up at the end of regulation in knotted games, something that now happens at the end of overtime.

It’s true that ties are not in our DNA in North America. So why not adopt a shoot-out style OT like the NCAA and CFL have? It is by far more exciting and compelling. You know what nobody has ever said? “I wish the NCAA and CFL reverted back to their old overtime rules.”

The drama of who takes the ball first — do you want to set the score or answer? — helps to make for outstanding theatre. And the whole thing doesn’t take very long. Most importantly, the format eliminates special teams, which is the most dangerous part of football.

Another reason the competition committee gave for cutting the length of overtime is it’s unfair for a team to play an overtime game and then have to play a Thursday-night game shortly afterwards. Here’s an idea: Don’t have Thursday-night games.

The inconvenient truth is playing on Thursday after playing on Sunday is ridiculous in the first place. Under no pretense of player safety would someone deem it a good idea. But it’s lucrative, and since that money is shared both by the players and owners, it is reluctantly accepted.

This is a symptom of the league’s bigger issue. The things they choose to address are relatively insignificant. They recently rolled back the harsh player-celebration rules, which is great. But it might impact 20 or 30 plays in a season.

Meanwhile, Thursday games will continue as long as they can sell the rights to someone. But don’t try to pretend that those or any other games will be safer because they can no longer reach the 15-minute mark of overtime. That’s a player-safety solution nobody is buying.