Hold on a minute. The NFL got it wrong. The coin toss wasn't the real problem. That wasn't what really needed changing after referee Phil Luckett's blunder gave Detroit the first possession of overtime and ultimately the quick victory over Pittsburgh.

Forget the coin toss. If the NFL didn't have such a ridiculous overtime format, the coin toss wouldn't be so crucial. Luckett's goof wouldn't have mattered.It's not the coin toss that needs changing; it's the sudden-death overtime format that needs changing.

Is there anything more inequitable in sports than the NFL's method of breaking ties? The team that scores first wins. The team that wins the coin toss gets the ball first, and a terrific advantage. Score, and the other team never even gets to touch the ball. Even if that team fails to score, a punt starts the other team deep in its own territory. Winning the coin toss is like being granted a first serve in ten- nis that keeps paying dividends.

Name another sport in which one team is given more opportunities than the other team, or puts so much weight on chance (the coin toss).

In baseball, both teams get an equal number of at-bats -- even if the game is tied and goes into extra innings.

Basketball gives both teams an extra five minutes to break the tie.

In hockey, the faceoff gives teams an equal chance of first possession, both in regulation and overtime.

In golf's version of overtime, the tied players play the same number of holes.

Tennis gives players an equal number of service turns in the tiebreaker.

But in the NFL, teams aren't given an equal opportunity to score, and the first opportunity is decided by a flip of the coin, by sheer luck.

Where did they get this idea, Las Vegas?

The NFL could learn something from the high school and college games, where ties are broken in a much more sensible and equitable way. Team A is given the ball at the 10-yard line (or, in college, the 25) and four or more downs to score. Then Team B gets the ball at the 10-yard line and the chance to score. If one of teams scores and the other doesn't, the game is finished. If both teams score, or if both teams fail to score, they each get four more downs to break the tie.

Besides being a fairer competition, it's also vastly more entertaining than the pro version of overtime. The pro version encourages field goals. The college/prep version encourages touchdowns.

In the NFL, all a team has to do is get close enough for a kicker to kick a field goal and end the game. The other team gets no chance to respond with a touchdown, so why try for the end zone and risk a turnover? A couple of long pass completions and the kicker is in range. Bottom line: It's boring. The two most crucial elements of overtime in the NFL are the coin toss and the kicker. This is excitement? Who wants to watch a kicker kick a field goal? Who wouldn't like to see the other team get an opportunity to answer a score? The last three NFL overtime games were decided by a field goal, including Sunday's 49er-Panther game in which the Niners never even thought about throwing a pass or trying for a touchdown. They were thinking field goal all the way. Compare that with Saturday night's Texas A&M-Kansas State game, in which the teams combined for three field goals and finally the winning touchdown in overtime.

After the Lions won the overtime coin toss in their Thanksgiving Day game against the Steelers, they completed a couple of passes and sent their kicker onto the field. Talk about anti-climactic. Instead of watching Jerome Bettis and Barry Sanders run, or Charlie Batch and Kordell Stewart pass, a kicker settled the game. It's basically football's version of the penalty kick in soccer.

In the college/prep version of overtime, if Team A has to settle for a field goal, Team B can win by scoring a touchdown. Team A must try for a touchdown. It makes great theater, much better than the NFL game. What could be more exciting than watching one team score and then watching the other team be granted the same opportunity in an all-or-nothing situation? Which do you think was better -- the 49ers-Panthers overtime game, which ended with a field goal, or the Hunter High-Jordan High overtime playoff game, in which both teams scored touchdowns and the outcome was decided by a two-point conversion pass?

Sports doesn't get any better than this. The NFL could learn something from the high school and college ranks.