Scott Michaux

Sports columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. | ScottMichaux.com

NFL's 'modified' playoff OT rule improves nothing

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Lost in all of the Tebow mania of Sunday’s thrilling playoff victory by the Broncos over the Steelers was the NFL’s illogical new postseason overtime rule.

Way back in 2010, the NFL adopted a new rule for postseason called “modified sudden death.” Sunday brought the first chance to implement it, and the outcome even left the guy who made the game-winning 80-yard catch-and-run scratching his head.

“What’s going on?” asked former Georgia Tech receiver Demaryius Thomas to former Georgia safety Champ Bailey as the Broncos teammates celebrated the latest and most unlikely verse in the Tim Tebow saga. The new “modified” overtime looked an awful lot like the old version. It certainly didn’t take the “sudden” out of the death of the Steelers’ season.

Thomas wasn’t alone in his confusion. Steelers fans must have been feeling a little like Jerry Seinfeld at the rental car counter when his reservation wasn’t held.

“You know how to make the guarantee, you just don’t know how to honor the guarantee. And that’s really the most important part of the guarantee – the honoring.”

(We interrupt this column to acknowledge the existence of a college football game Monday night. It has come to our understanding that Alabama was able to even the season series against LSU by winning the talent contest after earlier losing the swimsuit competition. I didn’t watch, since I don’t normally tune into the Miss America pageant either. But I’d like to congratulate the BCS for exalting a team that neither won its division nor played for its conference title. Somewhere the 2007 Georgia Bulldogs are wondering why not them while relishing the fact that the program that lobbied them right out of the opportunity then finally met its comeuppance. We now resume the column about a real football postseason already in progress.)

Let’s take a minute to explain what NFL referee Ron Winter tried to carefully convey to the players before the overtime coin flip Sunday. These are the actual words the NFL used when it unveiled its new postseason overtime rule two years ago.

“Teams will now have the opportunity to possess the ball AT LEAST once in the extra period UNLESS the team that receives the overtime kickoff scores a touchdown on its first possession. …

“The system GUARANTEES each team a possession or the opportunity to possess, UNLESS the team that receives the opening kickoff scores a touchdown on its initial possession.”

I have no idea what Mensa lawyer wrote this new modified sudden death rule, but the author clearly didn’t understand the meanings of the words and phrases it used. Webster’s defines “guarantee” as “an assurance for the fulfillment of a condition.” The NFL defines it as “maybe” with a massive qualifier that deems all previous assurances null and void.

Despite the commendable mission to diminish the luck factor of the coin toss giving one team an opportunity to move into field goal range and win without the other team ever having a chance, the league just made it more confusing. What would have been the harm in allowing Pittsburgh the possession it was supposedly “guaranteed” to try to match Denver’s touchdown and extend the game to sudden death or perhaps go for two points to win it? Would that do-or-die scenario have diminished the drama of the Broncos’ quick strike by erring on the side of fairness?

If you’re going to promise a team “at least” one possession, shouldn’t they “at least” get that chance. Why have the initial touchdown qualifier at all? Doesn’t that still put weight on a coin flip even if it does ask for a little more effort from the team that wins the toss?

The owners reportedly had a thick stack of alternative options to choose from when they voted on the new “modified” system without any input or argument from coaches, players, linguists or etymologists. So they went from one imperfect system to another with the stroke of a pen.

Thus the Tebow obsession lives on while Pittsburgh’s offense will have to wait for next season to get that possession it was guaranteed. And since it took the NFL 70 years to finally address the flaws of its overtime system, many of us might have to wait a few generations before they fix this fix.

That is if our own sudden deaths don’t intervene first.

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swess
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swess 01/10/12 - 09:41 pm
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Scott, Great article. I was

Scott,
Great article. I was dumbfounded as these events unfolded. I know the "new" rule evolved from the Vikes Saints playoff a few years ago. I had that "this is unfair" feeling then. This time around I was awaiting the "new" rule with chances for both teams in OT. But, no. The morons added a stupid loophole that undermines the whole point of bringing balance and fairness to OT. Thanks for writing about this. Your article deserves national syndication. I hope you stir up change to fix NFL OT once and for all.

richierich313
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richierich313 01/11/12 - 12:43 am
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This article has to be

This article has to be written by a disgruntled Steelers fan. The rules were clearly stated and guaranteed each team a possession UNLESS the first team scores a touchdown.

There is absolutely nothing confusing about that whatsoever, UNLESS you don't know the meaning of the word UNLESS.

avidreader
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avidreader 01/11/12 - 06:46 am
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Why not explore the rules of

Why not explore the rules of world football (soccer, as we call it). Put five or six minutes on the clock and play until it runs out. If nobody scores, put another five on the clock. If nobody scores, call it a tie; or whatever. In a championship game, let the kickers take shots from 35 yards; first one to five wins.

etlinks
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etlinks 01/11/12 - 07:14 am
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Great pass great catch, rules

Great pass great catch, rules were followed ,game over.

Your Right
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Your Right 01/11/12 - 09:00 am
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The whole point of the rule

The whole point of the rule change was to eliminate one team winning the coin toss and then just playing for a winning field goal. It is kind of interesting that was clearly explained as the reasoning for the new rule, but it was not mentioned in this article.

justthefacts
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justthefacts 01/11/12 - 09:15 am
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I don't see why both teams

I don't see why both teams are not given a possession. Seems fair.

justthefacts
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justthefacts 01/11/12 - 09:21 am
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Mr. Michaux claims he didn't

Mr. Michaux claims he didn't watch the BCS Champ game. Seems odd that someone who makes a living writing about sports would boycott the biggest game of the year because they don't agree with the participates. I mean isn't it their job to watch sporting events. Sounds like the sportswriter's version of "taking my ball and going home". Of course, "The Bachelor" was on, so it was a tough choice.

Scott Michaux
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Scott Michaux 01/11/12 - 01:49 pm
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I have been called many

I have been called many things in my life, but "disgruntled Steelers fan" is a first. That's a good one.
JTF, I think I have been very clear for 11 years now about my position on the BCS title game. I haven't watched the last several not because I don't like the participants but because I don't like the existence of the game AT ALL. My personal boycott to keep viewership down might not amount to much, but revolutions have to start somewhere. If a program from our area that we cover makes it, I'll do my job. But until then, I'm waiting for a playoff.

justthefacts
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justthefacts 01/11/12 - 03:18 pm
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OK Scott, if your boss is

OK Scott, if your boss is fine with it, enough said. I will have to look to other sources for the analysis of the game. Seems weird though.

daphne3520
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daphne3520 01/12/12 - 02:58 pm
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There is NO such word as
Unpublished

There is NO such word as "illogical."

justthefacts
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justthefacts 01/12/12 - 03:02 pm
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Really? Can you let

Really? Can you let "Websters" know? They'll be so embarrassed.

dallast94
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dallast94 01/12/12 - 07:47 pm
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A sports reporter that

A sports reporter that doesn't watch the most important college game of the season??? (are you employed by the government or in a union?).............I'm definitely back in the CSRA, how I miss you Athens. I guess you would boycott UGA also in the "big game" (when they make it 2053 and probably choke)...Roll Tide!

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