The League

Michael Kun

Michael Kun

Co-author of The Football Uncyclopedia. He is also the author of six other books and is a practicing attorney.

The new blame game


In the days leading up to the passage of the NFL's new playoff overtime rules, a number of coaches were quoted as opposing them.

Did they oppose the new rules because they weren't fair? No.

Was it because the new rules would prolong games and subject their players to an increased risk of injury? No.

Was it because the new rules were too confusing or complex? No.

Was it because the fans wouldn't enjoy the new rules? No, the reason articulated by some coaches in opposing the new rules was that the new rules would require them to make difficult strategic decisions.

I wish I were making that up, but it's true. That's what they said. And, apparently, they weren't embarrassed to say it. Of course, the old rules generally didn't require any significant strategic decisions.

Unlike the laminated charts all of the coaches seem to carry with them explaining the circumstances under which they should attempt a 2-point conversion, no laminated charts were needed for overtime decisions. If you won the coin flip, you chose to receive. Pretty simple decision.

If you lost the coin flip, you got to choose which direction you would kick the ball, which either was meaningless (inside a dome, for instance) or obvious (make the other team drive into a strong wind). If you were able to move the ball into field goal range, you'd run a few low-risk plays and, unless you picked up another first down, you'd attempt a field goal. Another simple decision.

The decisions made under the old rules were so clear and so obvious that, generally, the only poor decision a coach could make would be to run a high-risk play when he didn't need to, like putting the ball in the air when his team was already on the opponent's 20-yard line.

Everything else was left to luck (the coin toss) or performance (the players). The overtime decisions under the old rules were so clear and so obvious that they were virtually foolproof. Or, more accurately, blame-proof.

Under the old rules, it was exceedingly difficult for a coach to be blamed for an overtime loss. Not anymore. And isn't that really what the coaches mean when they complain that the new rules will force them to make difficult strategic decisions? Aren't they really saying that they now run the risk of being blamed if they lose an overtime game?

Under the new overtime rules, it's no longer a no-brainer to elect to receive if you win the coin toss. No, if you have a good defense, it might actually make sense to kick off, hoping you can keep the opponent from scoring or hold them to a field goal. And, of course, run the risk of being lambasted in the press the next day if your decision proves wrong.

If you had the ball first under the old rules, you might want to inch a little closer once you got into field goal range, but you weren't going to risk turning over the ball. Now, if you're on your opponent's 30-yard line, do you push for a touchdown or do you settle for a field goal attempt? Doesn't that decision depend on what you think of your opponent's offense and your own defense? And might that decision be different if it's fourth-and-one than if it's second-and-eight?

How about if your opponent gets the ball first and kicks a field goal? Now, if you're on your opponent's 30-yard line, do you push for a touchdown or do you settle for a field goal attempt?

Yes, these are difficult decisions. But the fact that there is a difficult decision to be made should make the game all the more interesting for fans. We'll be debating these decisions for weeks and months and years. And, yes, these decisions could lead to a coach getting picked apart by the fans or perhaps even losing his job. But if there's a coach in the NFL who can't take that pressure, he really needs to be looking for other work. Or a laminated overtime chart.

By Michael Kun  |  March 24, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Competition Committee , NFL , NFL Rules , Overtime Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Risks will be rewarded | Next: Decisions, decisions

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