Facebook Twitter

Stop using silly gimmickry to decide outcome of ties

Too many sports put in odd rules after regulation

SHARE Stop using silly gimmickry to decide outcome of ties

This just in: Starting next season, every time a baseball game stretches into extra innings, each half inning will begin with a runner on second base, just like softball.

OK, that's not really going to happen, but it would help teams score runs and prevent games from going 12, 13 maybe 14 innings or more before they are resolved. Of course, it also would change the basic texture of the sport, the delicate balance between offense and defense. But so what? The NFL, NHL and college football did that long ago.

Only in baseball and basketball do the games not change the way they're played when teams are tied at the end of regulation. The other sports see fit to revise the rules with gimmickry, putting in place an anomaly that often bears only a faint resemblance to what went before.

In the NFL, where they're still trying to get instant replay straight, games that stretch into overtime can be decided by the flip of the coin. Win the flip, take the ball, score some points and the game is over. There is no chance for the other team to respond.

The league argues that the system works because in 317 overtime games since regular-season OT was put in place in 1974, both teams have had possession 230 times. What's more, the team that lost the toss overcame that setback and still won 139 games. Of course, those flip-losers also lost 178 times.

Granted there is no guarantee that winning the coin flip means winning the game. Just don't expect the next team that wins an OT coin toss to defer and let the other guys have the ball.

Wartime travel restrictions caused the NHL to do away with overtime in 1942, and the sport functioned perfectly well after that with regular-season games ending in ties and each team was awarded one point.

Then came a frenzy to jazz up the game, causing the league to restore a five-minute overtime in 1983. That was acceptable but naturally not enough.

So now each team skates a man short in the extra period to open up the game and increase scoring opportunities. It's a cinch that goaltenders were not consulted about this wrinkle. It's also not the way the game was designed to be played — with five skaters on a side, barring any penalties.

And now, if a team loses in overtime, it gets a consolation prize of one point for tying after 60 minutes. Losers shouldn't get any points. That's why teams try to win.

College football, though, has the most bizarre OT system of all. It places the ball on the 25-yard line and then challenges defensive coordinators to prevent any points from being scored.

Any decent playbook has myriad ways to score from there, and teams prove that all the time. There was, for example, this season's Arkansas-Mississippi game that was tied at 17 after a perfectly reasonable 60 minutes of football.

Then the teams went into overtime. A record seven overtimes, in fact.

Final score: Arkansas 58, Mississippi 56. The difference turned out to be a missed 2-point conversion.

Eli Manning, kid brother of Peyton, threw a school-record six touchdowns for Ol' Miss, five in OT. Fred Talley (113), Mike Jones (110) and Cedric Cobbs (100) all had 100-yard rushing days for Arkansas.

Arkansas gained 531 total yards, Mississippi 457. The two teams set Division I records with a combined 198 plays and 80 overtime points, leaving all parties exhausted.

"I remember thinking during the fourth or fifth overtime that something bizarre is going to happen and this is futile," Rebels coach David Cutliffe said. "Why should this be a win or loss for either team? I was thinking let's just blow the whistle and say, 'Boys, let's go to the house.' "

Instead, they played on until Mississippi fell two points short in an affair that seemed like some souped-up video game.

"It was frustrating," Cutliffe said. "The college rule takes too many parts of the game away. I favor the NFL rule."

And that's even with no chance to respond to the other team scoring.

"That's OK," Cutliffe said. "I can coach defense. I can coach special teams and maybe get field position on the kickoff. I can force a punt. That's more of an indication to me of who's the better team."