Tackling Unpopular Issues: Bring Back the Tie

Today, I’m going to begin writing a series of undetermined length and frequency wherein I attempt to address the problems present in college football. My ideas might offend some of our readers, but it is important to understand some things:

1) These are the rants of someone with literally no power over the college football system.

2) What I’m making are suggestions, not announcements of how things must be

3) You may disagree with what I say, but please make cogent arguments (with references!) if you disagree. Don’t just write “ur idea sux” because that doesn’t say anything. Furthermore, please don’t get too worked up about anything, because points one through three are superseded by point four…

4) I don’t really care too much what your opinion is. You shouldn’t care too much what my opinion is. This is an opinion piece on the Internet, for crying out loud. If you disagree, either tell me why or go Google the opinion of someone with whom you agree.

OK, let’s get started!

Issue #1: The Tie

College football overtime is one of the more unique aspects of the sport. Mind you, the BCS is also “unique,” so don’t go mistaking that for a compliment…

Prior to 1996, the end of regulation was the end of a game. If the game was tied, then the game went down in the official record books as a tie. The situation was hardly ideal, but college football had made it work for years, so no one was overly bothered by ties. Take note that I’m not looking back with nostalgia here, as the majority of games still ended in regulation. I’m not holding up the tie as something that was once common, yet is now extinct. I’m merely saying that, up until fourteen years ago, it was an option.

Unfortunately, we live in a nation where the tie is anathema. We believe that there must be a winner and a loser, that there has to be a clear-cut outcome. This is a problem for a variety of reasons, predominant among them the fact that reality rarely provides clear-cut outcomes.

Doubtless you’ve all heard of the “Fall of the Roman Empire?” That’s a problem because the Western Roman Empire never really fell, per se. It faded slowly but surely, and we tend to date the “fall” as the deposing of the Roman Emperor Romulus Augustus in 476. But Romulus Augustus had no real power! It would be like deposing the Queen of England and declaring that the United Kingdom was kaput! We want everything to be clean, cut and dry, but almost nothing in history is an overnight, black and white, thing. The Renaissance was a process, the American Revolution was a messy back-and-forth conflict, the Constitution required a do-over, and I could go on, but if you’re like my students you stopped paying attention around the beginning of this paragraph.

Now, I’m aware that sports provide an escape from reality, so the same rules shouldn’t apply, should they? Well, the grand majority of sports contests (regardless of what sport it is) don’t end in a tie. For many, they can’t end in a tie, because their rules don’t allow it. It’s when regulation ends in a tie that things get weird. Baseball mandates that teams play extra innings until there’s a score difference at the end of an inning. Hockey now dictates that you play a sudden-death period followed by a shootout. Basketball makes teams play until an overtime period ends with a score difference. Pro football has a system wherein the teams play sudden-death, meaning that the first team within field goal range usually wins.

And college football? Well, the overtime system in college football is some bizarre hybrid of baseball’s inning system and hockey’s shootout system. Teams play until there’s a score difference at the end of an overtime, forcing one team into the loss category and one team into the wins category. In theory, this should separate out the winners from the losers, making it easier to determine who the national champion should be.

Except it hasn’t. You’d have to be an idiot to blame the championship confusion in college football on the overtime system, but the mere presence of championship confusion negates the concept of an arbitrary “win or lose” system. In two of the 14 seasons since the “no tie” system was developed, we’ve had split champions. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if you can’t even decide an overall champion with this system, then what’s the point in forcing a team to either win or lose a game?

Furthermore, in 2004 there were 3 undefeated teams, but only two got a shot at the title. In 2009 there were five undefeated teams, and only two got a shot at the title. In 2007, there was one undefeated teams, and a one-loss school and a two-loss school went toe-to-toe for the title. Interestingly enough, there was quite a bit of controversy about that two-loss team making the title game. If ties were allowed at the end of regulation (the old system), then LSU would have gone 12-0-2, potentially reducing their controversy quotient. The system forces us to have a “one or the other” mentality with teams in the championship and it further compounds that error with forcing a “one or the other” outcome in a game.

At present, there are four undefeated teams in college football: Oregon, Auburn, Boise State, and TCU. Of those four, Auburn was the only one forced into overtime, in a game against Clemson. I’m curious to see where that would put the Tigers now. It wouldn’t have changed their status in the SEC (they’re undefeated) but who knows what it could have done to the title hopes of the Tigers. Would a tie with mediocre Clemson be as bad as, say, a loss to Wisconsin? We’ll not get to find out, at least this season.

College football’s version of overtime is a sham anyway: Football is a sport where defenses are allowed to bend, but not break. I’ve discussed this before, but even in blowout games, the winning team is going to give up some yardage. It’s a part of the game. So to determine the outcome of a 7-7 game, you give the ball to each team on the 25 yard line and tell them to slug it out? Gee, I wonder who has the advantage in that scenario? Actually, just click this link. Offense is mistakenly thought of as “more exciting” than defense, because you have to score points to win in any game. Unfortunately, if an offense is clicking, you wind up with games like the ugly, poorly defended game on November 6 in the Big House. If watching two ragged defenses get run over in a game with a final score of 67-65 is your idea of good football, then you might ought to consider a sport with higher scoring, i.e. basketball.

Near as I can tell, there are three solutions. The first, and most likely, is that nothing will change. It’s disheartening, but I also like to be realistic. The likelihood is that all college football games will continue to have this system of determining game outcomes for the foreseeable future.

Another solution is the old way: Games that end in a tie in regulation just end. It’s not a great system, but it worked for, well, about a hundred years. But suppose a team had a chance to finish off a comeback, but were stifled by a lesser team stalling to keep the ball and playing for a tie. What about that scenario?

Well, that’s why I propose what I call the “5th quarter OT” rules: After the end of regulation, you have a coin toss. Visiting team calls it, winner either receives or differs, etc. Same as the start of a game. The game clock is set to 15:00, play proceeds as normal. If a team scores, they kickoff to the other team. All “regular” rules apply, each team gets two timeouts, and play continues for those 15 minutes. In a regular season game, at the end of the OT period, if the teams are still tied, the game ends in a tie. No ifs, ands, or buts. “Superior” teams who were unable to beat “inferior” opponents in regulation got an extra 15 minutes, did nothing with it, and tied.

Under this proposed system, if conference championship games and bowl games are tied after 1 overtime, play continues with another OT period exactly like the first one. My logic here is this: Yes, players will be dog tired after playing not one, but two (or three, etc.) extra periods. But they’ll have a month to recover if it’s the conference championship game, and many months to recover if it’s their bowl.

So there you have it, my proposal to bring back the tie. It would apply to a minimal number of games in any given season, and it would hopefully allow us to see a change in the way overtime works in any given season. So what do you think? Remember, if you disagree, please tell me why, don’t just rip an idea because you think it’s silly, actually come up with your own alternatives! And remember, this is the proposal of one guy, not something that’s on the NCAA’s list of things to do…