With each dawning of spring come revisions to the rules of America’s National Football League. Providing further evidence that there is no “off-season” in the NFL, the Competition Committee gathers its members together in March to make revisions to the existing rules of the game. It is natural to wonder why a game which has been played for over a century requires tweaking of its rules following each season. One particular change, set to begin this season, is an example of the difficulty of trying to make the game as perfect as possible.

The NFL’s Competition Committee is a group of eight members chosen from members of the NFL (generally coaches and club executives) who oversee the rules which govern the game. That group makes recommendations regarding rule changes to the owners who then annually vote on the recommendations. Ever increasing emphases on player safety has made up the bulk of recent committee recommendations and subsequent implemented rule changes. This season however, one change was proposed and adopted which left many close to the game scratching their collective heads — a “modified overtime” rule just for the playoffs.

The adoption of a rule change to playoff games which end in a tie have created reverberations which still are being heard around the League. Though this particular rule change would effect only a handful of playoff games, the passion generated makes it seem that a change had been made to the shape of the ball or the number of points awarded for a touchdown. Everyone seems to have strong opinions. Virtually no one is content with the new rule, set to commence with next season’s playoffs.

The former playoff method for dealing with games ending in a tie was identical to regular season games. A coin toss determines the initial possession of the football. The team scoring first wins the game in a “sudden death” fashion. The new rule, which only applies to the playoffs is referred to as “modified sudden death.” This dramatic change which has tongues wagging everywhere, states that the first team to possess the football cannot win the game by means of an initial field goal played in the overtime period. Committee co-chair and Atlanta Falcons General Manager, Rich McKay stated last week that this modification would produce the “fairest result.”

McKay goes on to state, “I have a file that’s this thick with overtime recommendations and changes. …This idea, in our minds, did the right thing for football.  It kept the football decisions the same. It kept the strategy the same.  It dealt with the statistical advantage that had occurred from the coin toss, which we didn’t think was fair.”

Modified sudden death now states that if the team to initially possesses the football manages only a field goal, the other team shall be given an opportunity to also attempt a score. It will now be in the best interest of the team first possessing the football to score a touchdown rather than a field goal. Where formerly a field goal would have ended the game, the opponent is now given their own chance to either tie the game with a field goal of their own, or score a touchdown and win the game.

Why the controversy? The majority of dissensions fall along one of two lines: first, the rule requires a complete overhaul to the strategy of how playoff overtime is managed, and/or secondly the rule change fails to go far enough in addressing the crux of the issue. Ironically, all dissenters agree that the system previously employed was flawed — they just wish the new rule had been different.

Regardless of playoffs or regular season games, most believe sudden death itself lies at the heart of the present overtime problem. While there are a those who believe that the present system should not be meddled with and that the status quo be maintained, most prefer sudden death be eliminated entirely. They favor a shortened overtime period be played so that the game is kept closer to the heart of football. Most would prefer the offense and defense be the determining factor in the outcome of the game — not a kicker.

Modified sudden death will certainly be argued about for some time. Since most coaches and fans seem to favor something different, sudden death itself may require killing. It seems clear that the NFL made progress on an issue which has been contentious for some time. Unfortunately, progress frequently does not equal perfection — and that certainly seems the case here.