It’s October, and you are watching the World Series.
It’s a rematch between the Red Sox and the Dodgers. It’s Game 6 and the Red Sox are the visiting team. The game has gone into extra innings and the Red Sox, who hold a 3-2 series lead, are the visiting team. In the top of the 10th, Mookie Betts leads off the inning with a double. J.D. Martinez follows with a shot into the gap in right field, allowing Betts to score from second. The Red Sox win the Series! The Red Sox win the Series!
Wait … what?
Yep, those are the new rules instituted by Major League Baseball earlier that year. The team that scores first, wins.
Fast forward a few months. Now you are watching the NBA Finals. It’s gone to a Game 7. It’s been a back-and-forth game between the Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors. It goes into overtime. The Warriors win the opening tip and get the ball down the floor to Steph Curry, who promptly drains a 3-pointer. The confetti starts to fall from the ceiling, as the Warriors are the champions of the world yet again!
That doesn’t make much sense either, does it?
OK, here’s another scenario … one with which you might be a little more familiar.
The New England Patriots are playing the Kanasas Chiefs in the AFC Championship game. It’s been a heck of a contest as Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes have been dueling all evening. At the end of regulation, the two teams are tied, sending the game into overtime. The Patriots win the coin toss and, with Tony Romo on commentary correctly predicting every play New England is going to run, Brady leads his team right down the field for a touchdown.
Game over. The Patriots are going back to the Super Bowl.
Of those three scenarios, two are merely nonsensical fantasy, while one is nonsensical reality.
Of the three biggest professional sports in America, only one can a game be decided without both teams getting at least an opportunity on offense. While comparing baseball or basketball to football may be like comparing apples to oranges, it still makes no sense to me.
And here’s the scary part — the NFL overtime rules are actually better than they used to be. Up until a few years ago, the first team to score in overtime won the game, regardless of whether it was a touchdown or a field goal. Now, if the team that gets the ball first scores a field goal on its first drive, the other team gets one possession to match that field goal or score a touchdown to win the game.
But still, if the team that gets the ball first scores a touchdown, the game is over. So often, the games are essentially decided by a coin flip. And yes, the Chiefs’ defense had the opportunity to stop the Patriots and give their offense the ball with a chance to win the game.
But again, they shouldn’t have had to.
It’s not as though there’s not already an overtime system in place that makes sense at both the high school and college levels. In high school, each team gets alternating possessions of the ball at the opposing team’s 20-yard line. If the first team to get the ball scores, the other team gets the ball with a chance to match or exceed that score. In college, the rules are the same, except the ball starts at the 25.
I’m not entire sure what’s stopping the NFL from following suit. It would certainly make for more exciting — in addition to more equitable — contests. And before anyone accuses me of having bitter grapes about the Patriots making it to the Super Bowl, I can assure you, you are wrong. I actually enjoy watching the Patriots play. I just would have liked to have seen Mahomes and the Chiefs get at least crack at tying up the game.
It certainly doesn’t seem fair to the Chiefs they didn’t get that chance. But hey, if it’s any consolation to them, the officials in the Saints-Rams game ensured they didn’t suffer the biggest injustice of the weekend.
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong