Let ESPN’s Brian Griese set the scene for you: “It’s almost like the TD was given; it’s all going to come down to the two-point conversion.”
Let NPI’s Pierre Menard reset the scene for you: “Nothing in college football’s overtime can possibly be described as ‘given.’”
We have spent so much time analyzing the inadequacies of professional football’s overtime logistics that we have overlooked the larger flaws in college’s practice of the extra session(s). We are lucky that Monsieur Griese was describing a game between his alma mater, Michigan, and Illinois—one that Pierre can safely say was, in all aspects, irrelevant and insignificant.
Yes, college football’s overtime, mon ami, is broken. It is too easy to score, and like its professional predecessor, places an unnecessary significance on the initial coin toss. Furthermore, it skews statistics, scores, and the very nature of the sport.
Pierre has two major qualms with college football’s overtime, and he was inspired over the weekend with how he could finally solve both of them. The first issue is that it is far too easy to score in the extra session. Placing the ball on the 25-yard line makes a field goal—Kyle Brotzman notwithstanding—all but a given. In many cases, as Griese pointed out during a game in which the final score was 67-65, so is a touchdown. It seems self-evident to me that the ball must be moved back to differentiate between offenses that are capable of scoring and offenses that are good at it. The 40-yard line strikes me as the optimal spot for the ball at the beginning of overtime. A college offense is one first down from field-goal range but within excellent striking distance of the end zone. At most,* a team will run one dozen plays in the overtime session—more than now, yes, but not too many. Furthermore, the yardage difference creates meaningful distinctions between offenses capable of driving 25 yards and those capable of driving 40. I do not think this is an insignificant difference.
*This calculation factors in the immense probability that a team will gain at least millimeters more than 10 yards per each first down, meaning it can only have three first downs in the span of 40 yards. It also does not account for the chance that a defense will continually jump offsides within the 10-yard line while stopping the offense, causing the latter to take the penalty at half the distance to the goal and a repeat of the down, meaning it is possible for an infinite number of plays to occur.
Requiring an offense to go 40 yards means that the team who gets the ball after holding the opponent scoreless in overtime can’t run the ball into the line three times and kick a winning field goal. Well, I should say this would be the case in the current arrangement. But, you see, Pierre has another idea up his sleeve for overtime: There wouldn’t be a team who gets the ball second.
I noticed something remarkable during a wide-angle shot of Nevada’s Mackay Stadium a few Fridays ago: When the ball is placed in opponent’s territory to start overtime, the other side of the field is completely unoccupied. So what, Pierre asks, prevents us from using both sides of the field at the same time?
Yes, now we’re on to something. Now nobody gets the ball second, you see. Now, each team attempts to score at the same time! And whoever scores a touchdown first wins!*
*It’s not quite that simple. If you score a TD first, you win. But you can win with a field goal if the other team doesn’t score at all.
Now, Pierre knows what you’re thinking. He knows you view him as mad, as favoring a certain style of fast-paced, perhaps Oregonian, offense. But, as in all good tragedies—and college football is nothing if not a good tragedy—there is a rub. Run your four plays without netting a first down, and voila, now the other team need only a field goal to win. Run three plays and face a 4th-and-long in field goal range, well, now the other team can take all the time it wants to score its game-winning touchdown.
Think of how much simpler this all is: There is no coin toss for there is no need. The home team gets the usually slight but at-times significant advantage of deciding which end of the field it wishes to defend. And then both offenses trot to their respective positions at the opponent’s 40-yard line, the 40-second play clock commences, and so does the action.
Insensé, you cry! But this privileges offenses that score quickly! Yeah, you know what Pierre calls offenses that score quickly? Good offenses! Remember, we’re seeking differentiation between relatively even teams here, and an offense that can score in two plays is better than an offense that can score in seven. While I do admit that there is such a thing as scoring too fast, it is always beneficial to have an offense that can score quickly when it needs to.
Admit it: Your main qualm is not with the actual football aspect of this plan, but with its televisual one. This would be nothing but broadcast chaos, you shout. But how to film two plays at once? How to translate the experience to the viewer at home in his recliner? There’d be no time for the beautiful play-replay-play rhythm of football broadcasts! No time for Herbstreit to tell us how wise it was to “throw it away on first down” or Patrick to discuss Britney! The banter would be subsumed in actual, honest play-by-play!
Pierre says, “Relax.” Like Shaw, he dreams things that never were and asks, “Why not?” You do not need him to tell you about the shrinking American attention span, or the growing clutter on your television screen. He is not immune. He flirts with the NFL Red Zone channel or with MLB.tv, and he lusts for the Quad Box and the Mosaic, respectively. He reads the Bottom Line, even when he’s not reading the Bottom Line, if you catch his drift. Haven’t we reached the point, he thinks, where we can perceive simultaneous events simultaneously? Aren’t our brains, by now, able to see a split-screen television showing, say, Oregon on offense here and Auburn on offense there, and understand what happens both here and there?
You see a simultaneously played overtime as chaos; I see it as progress. I see it as the future. You call it contrived? I am merely calling and raising college football’s contrivances. The Bowl Championship Series, the cupcake scheduling, Pro Combat uniforms! Overtime already begins with dual possession deep in opponent territory; it is not as if we are soiling a pure white sheet here.
So accepting those contrivances, I merely add one more that does no more to damage the sanctity of college football—an amentaceous phrase if you ask me—than the current overtime setup. In the process, I add a tremendous amount of uninterrupted excitement, with cameras capturing action on each end of the field, each team battling one another not just to score, but to do so quickly. A second or third overtime would occur only if the defenses have played heroically, with neither team being able to score. And with two easy, seemingly self-evident strokes, we eradicate college football’s overtime of its greatest ills and usher in an exciting, previously unforeseen future for football and sports in general. There are no advantages in this overtime; there are only 40 yards and a ticking clock.