Somewhat abruptly, the National Football League passed legislation Tuesday amending the 36-year-old policy of sudden death overtime--at least, in the postseason--an often criticized facet of the game today. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that the decision was necessary as a matter of fairness--the unsettling idea that a team could win a playoff game on the strength, basically, of a coin toss and a kicker.
In sudden death's place--in the playoffs, only--will be "modified sudden death," by which the receiving team in overtime cannot win on a field goal alone.
If the receiving team does make a field goal on the first drive, they can win with a defensive stop or a turnover on the ensuing drive of the opposition; they will lose if that team responds with a touchdown; they will go to traditional sudden-death overtime if the opposition answers with a field goal.
The receiving team may also win, quite simply, by scoring a touchdown on the opening drive; if the receiving team kicks a field goal, they may also win via a successful onside kick.
Getting down to those proverbial brass tacks, the rule is in place to prevent a team from winning with a field goal on the first drive. And, without any measure of gushing, we can say that the amendment is something of an improvement.
Before, a defense was charged with keeping a team out of field goal range; a mighty tall order after kicking off from the 30-yard-line. Under the new rules, they only have to keep the opposition out of the end-zone to guarantee their offense an opportunity to win the game.
However, the decision to implement the rule in the playoffs, alone, seems somewhat backwards. Aside from the obvious question of, "If this is a better rule, why not implement it across the board?" it seems a curious decision to put brand-new policy into practice for the first time when the stakes are at their highest--namely, in the playoffs.
There is still a chance, however, that the policy will be applied to the 2010 regular season, though it seems doubtful at this juncture. Co-chair of the NFL Competition Committee Rich McKay said recently that they will discuss the subject further when the league meets in May, in Dallas.