Ban the Golden Touchdown From the NFL

Updated: Apr 11

My definition of a Golden Touchdown within the context of pro football: Team A wins the coin toss for the overtime period and proceeds to score a touchdown on that possession, which means that Team B loses the game after not having the chance to possess the ball in OT.


According to NFL rules, in the 10-minute overtime period: "Each team must possess, or have the opportunity to possess, the ball. The exception: if the team that gets the ball first scores a touchdown on the opening possession." (Playoff periods will be 15 minutes)…I’m proposing to eliminate the ‘exception clause’ to improve a level playing field.


Before proceeding, there’s a coin toss and the winner of that gets to choose to play offense or defense. I’d assume close to 100% of teams choose offense. In the game on Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs won the coin toss and got the ball and the Buffalo Bills played defense. The Chiefs drove the length of the field before scoring a touchdown and winning the game. It was a delightful drive but if you’re impartial, you may say that there’s an empty feeling for the Bills on how the game ended.

Some called it the "worst rule in sports." According to the Stathead database, there have been a little over 160 overtime games under the current rules for winning in overtime (including the postseason). The team that got the ball first has won 52% of the time. The team that kicked off has won 42% of the time. The rest were ties, which happens in regular-season games when no one scores during the now 10-minute overtime period.


This roughly means that the lucky team wins 5 times, the defensive team 4 times and the remaining games ended in ties. I’d say over time, including the postseason, this is statistically significant. If these numbers are correct, why do we have the current system?


Instead of the Golden Touchdown in OT and to add fairness to the game, simply add a complete 5th quarter, starting with the playoffs, so the team with the highest score after 75 minutes wins!


I’ve heard some say they have no issues with how the OT rules are designed in the NFL. The common refrain might be, “If they want to win, they have to stop them.” But theoretically, only one of the team’s three-position groups is being used. In other words, this could essentially come down to Bill’s defense versus the Chief’s offense. So to settle a dispute in the playoffs, it’s possible that only one position group may be used. Doesn’t sound like a competitive balance to me, especially in the playoffs.


My first proposal would initially focus on the playoffs and how OT is handled. We would play an overtime period mirroring the 4th quarter but call it the 5th quarter. This would include 3 timeouts per team, a two-minute warning, and all reviews will be done by the booth -- the 4th quarter is typically one of the most exciting 15 minutes so let’s play one more 4th quarter, and call it the 5th! You have contrarians who may say additional injuries may result from playing an extra quarter in the playoffs. Let’s be real, we’re only talking about OT games so that eliminates much field time. We’re also only talking about applying it to playoff games, so that eliminates much field time. For all of the playoffs in a given year, you may find a maximum of one or two games that go into OT. Some years there may not be any. So to improve the competitive balance, I hope many others see this new rule as not infringing on the safety of the game.

This game in question between Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs achieved the highest viewership ratings since last year's Super Bowl. Some viewers on Sunday understood the OT rule, archaic or not. What about the casual fans? How will they respond from an objective perspective that only one team got to possess the ball in OT, however spectacular it was? Will “injustice” be part of the post-game narrative for the following week? The irony may be that having this event in prime time where a certain “Golden Touchdown” scenario is played out might just get the wheels of change in motion.


For all regular and playoff games, there are 3 components of the game that will determine your success: offense, defense, and special teams. If it’s OT and luck is not on the right side, there’s a chance that your offense never sees the field. There’s a chance that your special teams might also not play much of a factor. Sometimes, it’s simply all up to the defense, regardless of the current health or physical condition of your defense. Factor in the already advantages the league has imposed to improve scoring, it's certainly not hard to see when winning the coin toss often becomes the gateway to a golden touchdown. And in my mind, that's not a level playing field and this rule should be modified.



Tidbits:

In the college game, both teams possess the ball at least once. In the college game, special teams come into play with either a field goal, extra point, or both so the strategy may play a role. In the college game, if both teams are on offense, at least once, then both the offense and defense are also part of the strategy.


Why do you think the Chiefs crowd roared after they won the coin toss? They knew it was downhill from here, especially playing at home. They knew that Patrick Mahomes and the strong Chiefs offense could inflict further damage against the tired Bills defense and if KC plays their cards right, they’ll not have to experience the Bills from coming back.


Updated on April 11, 2022: Recently, NFL owners passed a new overtime rule for playoff games only. That means that if a playoff game is tied at the end of 4 quarters, they go to overtime where both teams will be able to possess the ball at least once. This makes the playoffs more equitable with this new change as both teams will have a chance on offense. Unfortunately, this rule does not apply to the regular season -- many clubs are worried that regular-season games will go on too long if it ends in overtime, especially considering the NFL has just recently gone to a 17 game season.


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