Overtime is an extra period of play which occurs when both teams are tied after regulation. Regulation time is the standard length of a game, usually 60 minutes for a college and pro football game. If both teams are tied at the end of regulation, then an overtime period is played.
Depending on the league, overtime comes in different forms. Even in a particular league, overtime might have different implications.
Sudden Death Overtime
The NFL uses "sudden death overtime". Sudden death overtime means that the first team to score wins the game. In an NFL regular season game, there is one 15-minute period of overtime. Like at the beginning of a game, there is a coin toss. The winner of the toss gets to choose either who receives the ball first or the direction the team wants to face. Almost always in overtime, the team chooses to receive the ball.
It’s considered a great advantage to have the ball first in sudden death overtime, because defenses tend to be worn down after 60-minutes of play. Since the first team to score wins, the team receiving the ball has the chance to score before the opponent ever gains possession in overtime.
One Study of NFL Overtime
In actuality, the stats show that the team receiving the ball only wins the game about 50% of the time. Over a period from 1974 to 2002, there were 374 NFL games which went to overtime. In 73% of the games, both teams had possession of the ball. In those games, 51% of the time, the receiving team won the game. 44% of the time, the team which lost the coin toss won the game. Around 3% of the time, the game ended in a tie.
Obviously, in the NFL playoffs, sudden death overtime can extend into multiple overtime periods. The game continues until one side scores, however long it might take.
Changing the Overtime Rules
When a high profile game ends with a quick overtime win, NFL fans will complain that new overtime rules should be adopted. The opponents of sudden death overtime want to get rid of that aspect of the game. They tend to focus on the NCAA college overtime rules.
Overtime Procedure – NCAA Overtime
The overtime rules in college (as well as high school and Canadian football) are called the overtime procedure or the Kansas Playoff. In this system, both teams receive a possession before the winner is determined.
In NCAA football, each team receives a possession starting at the defense’s 25-yard line. This possession takes place like any other, so the offense has 4 downs to make a first down or touchdown. If a first down is made, 4 more downs are allowed. The offense can also choose to attempt a field goal to acquire points. If a touchdown is scored, the scoring team can attempt a 1-point or 2-point conversion.
In this way, a team can score between 3 and 8 points on their possession. The winner is the team with the most points after each team has had a possession. If there is a tie, then each team receives another possession, and so on, until a winner is determined.
Variations on the Kansas Playoff Rules
In college football, the starting possession line is the 25 yard line. In Canadian football, it is the 35-yard line. In most high school games, it is the 10 yard line, though some states allow the local authorities to set other starting lines.