Let’s say the Ravens are playing the Kansas City Chiefs and the game goes to overtime. The Chiefs win the overtime coin toss, get the ball, march down the field and score a touchdown. Game over. The most important aspect of that overtime, many would argue, was the coin flip that handed the ball to the Chiefs.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh thinks there’s a better way.
Harbaugh and the Ravens have submitted a proposed rule change for overtime known as “spot and choose,” which Harbaugh says is fairer than the current system.
Under the “spot-and-choose” plan, one team would decide where the ball would be spotted to begin overtime, and the other team would choose whether to begin on offense or defense. In other words, a team that won the overtime coin toss could spot the ball at the 15-yard line, 85 yards from the scoring end zone. Then the other team would decide whether to play offense or defense from that spot.
Harbaugh said the idea first came several years ago from his former assistant Matt Weiss, now the quarterbacks coach at Michigan. Weiss has equated the system to the age-old scenario of two children cutting a piece of cake — one makes the cut, the other gets to pick the first piece.
“We think the main thing is the spot-and-choose aspect of it is to make it fair,” Harbaugh said. “Any luck involved would be the bounce of the ball, not the flip of the coin. I think that’s something the fans would appreciate. While it’s really intriguing and fun, there’s a lot to it strategically. It’s a very simple concept.”
The Ravens have actually submitted two different overtime proposals, one that involves a sudden-death finish, and another in which the teams play a full 7.5-minute overtime period, akin to a basketball extra period, with the score at the end of that period being the final.
The NFL has long faced criticism for an overtime system that doesn’t guarantee both teams a chance to play offense. That was addressed to some extent in 2010, when a change to the overtime rules for the playoffs stipulated that if the team that received the ball kicked a field goal on its opening possession of overtime, the other team got a possession. That change was expanded to all games in 2012.
Harbaugh and the Ravens contend that the coin flip is the single-biggest factor in overtime and claim that “spot and choose” is a more equitable, strategic alternative. According to ESPN, teams that won the overtime coin toss have won 58 percent of overtime games since 2017, and the “coin-flip advantage” has been most pronounced in the playoffs.
Since 2010, the team winning the overtime coin flip in the playoffs has gone 9-1, with six of those games ending on an opening-drive touchdown without the other team possessing the ball.
This past season, however, provides some counter to Harbaugh’s argument. Of the 10 overtime games in the NFL this season, the team that won the overtime coin flip went 4-5-1, and only once did a team win the game without the other team gaining possession.
The Ravens played one overtime game this year; they won the overtime coin flip against Tennessee, had to punt, and the Titans marched down and won, 30-24, when Derrick Henry broke off a 29-yard touchdown run.
The NFL isn’t quick to adopt revolutionary rules changes, and for any rule change to take effect, it must gain approval from at least 24 of the league owners, who will convene virtually for their annual meetings at the end of the month.
Harbaugh acknowledged that the concept might be “before its time. I don’t know. We’ll find out. We like to be progressive in our thinking here.”
“We’re really excited about it,” he added, “and hopefully it’ll pass.”
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