Out of Bounds

This past Sunday, the NFL contest between the Philadelphia Eagles and Cincinnati Bengals ended in a tie after both teams failed to score in the lone overtime period.

The peculiar result - it was the NFL's first regular season tie since 2002 - made the league's archaic, ineffective overtime rules the center of attention yet again. For the sake of the fans, and for the sake of the pitifully misinformed Donovan McNabb, the league needs to step in and install an effective overtime system, one that will never yield a tie game.

Unfortunately, such an overtime system is hard to come by in American football, and there have been scores of ineffective variations at every level of the sport. Take college football, for instance. The NCAA settles ties by giving each team's offense a shot at scoring from the opponent's 25-yard line. If the score is still tied after each team's possession, they lather, rinse and repeat until a victor emerges.

The problem with college football's exhilarating solution is that it's simply impractical. The game play in college overtime is noticeably different from normal football, because it removes special teams - such as punts and kick returns - from the equation. Thus, conservative defensive teams who play the field position game are put at a huge disadvantage, because their style of play is completely negated by the overtime rules.

There exists one overtime system, however, which I think is fair to either team while staying true to the nature of the game. This purist-pleasing resolution is surprisingly found in one of the most modern, detached leagues of American football: the Arena Football League.

According to the AFL's rules, each team is guaranteed at least one possession in overtime, a major improvement over the NFL's sudden-death policy where the infinitely important first possession is determined by a coin-flip. In the AFL, if the teams remain tied following their first overtime possessions, sudden death goes into effect, with the next team to score being declared the winner regardless of how long as it takes to score.

If applied in the NFL, the Arena League's overtime format would provide a tremendous boost in fairness while eliminating the sickening possibility of a sister-kissing tie. Guaranteeing at least one possession per team in overtime is imperative, since the current system has been known to decide games on a measly coin flip.

The AFL's innovative solution also permits teams to keep playing conservative, old-fashioned football - much better than college's circus-like resolution, which forces teams to go for two-point conversions starting with the third overtime period. Such outlandish rules make for exciting football, but the excitement isn't nearly worth the unfairness and impracticality carried with it.

I plead with you, Mr. Goodell: Change the overtime system in your league. Make it effective, exciting, and fair. But most of all, don't allow your dedicated fans to endure the stale taste of a tie after 75 minutes of football. This is the 35th season of the current overtime format. In that time, fans have sat through 17 miserable ties. Please, act now to prevent an 18th.

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