By Ken Reed
I want to look at the Super Bowl today from a purely athletic competition standpoint. That’s hard to do because there are so many political and economic issues surrounding the game. The Super Bowl is certainly much more than a sporting event. But sometimes, to remain a sports fan, you need to compartmentalize.
First, one must note what a great Super Bowl game that was on Sunday. Incredible plays, amazing athleticism, outstanding effort, terrific teamwork, great resilience, etc. You name it, this game had it.
It’s hard not to appreciate the human drama of sports. From the Patriots’ perspective — down 25 points — to exhibit the poise, teamwork and competitive spirit they did until the final horn is truly beautiful stuff.
But I have a beef today. It’s a beef with the structural foundation of the game itself, the rules. In particular, the overtime rules.
The NFL’s overtime rules are ridiculous from a justice standpoint. It’s simply unfair that both teams don’t get a shot at the ball in overtime. The NFL rule in this regard is completely convoluted. If the team that wins the overtime coin toss only scores a field goal, the other team gets a chance to have the ball and score as well. However, if the team that wins the toss scores a touchdown, the game’s over, the other team doesn’t get a chance to score.
What?! That’s nuts. If a score in the form of a touchdown ends the game, why doesn’t a score in the form of a field goal end the game?
Problem one is that there’s way too much emphasis on the pure luck of winning a coin toss. NFL training camps start in July. The Super Bowl ends in February. That’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears to have the championship game come down, in large part, to the outcome of a coin toss.
In college football, both teams get a chance to have the ball and score. Winning a college football game requires contributions from a team’s offense and defense. In the Super Bowl, the Patriots defense never even had to take the field in the overtime period.
Like college football, in soccer and hockey, overtime shootouts allow both teams to take an equal number of shots on goal. And in basketball, of course, both teams will have control of the ball multiple times in overtime. In baseball, extra innings allow both teams to get a shot at coming to the plate.
Only in the NFL can one team be shut out of a chance to be on offense. That flaw is especially egregious in the Super Bowl, where there is so much on the line.
At League of Fans, we spend a lot of time on social and economic injustices in the world of sport. Those are important issues, much more so than the fairness of an overtime rule.
But an injustice is an injustice and the Falcons got screwed by the NFL’s overtime rule.
It’s a rule that needs to be fixed.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
- League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.