The Ravens are reportedly making a proposal to the NFL to change the overtime rules to a “spot and choose” system under which the winner of the coin toss would get to pick where the ball goes on the field and the other team would decide whether it wants to play offense or defense.
It’s a wildly intriguing idea, which as Mike Florio correctly noted at Pro Football Talk, “replaces chance with strategy.” Might a team with a dynamic offense choose to place the ball at its own 10 yard line, knowing that the opponent would then be willing to hand them the ball, 90 yards from scoring? Would a team with a great defense choose a spot around midfield, daring the other team to try scoring on them?
The Ravens’ proposal also has its own wrinkle of one option being for sudden death and 10 minutes on the clock in overtime, with another possibility being a 7:30 overtime where teams would just play out the clock. Both preserve the possibility of a tie, which is an advantage over the college overtime system, where teams must keep playing, possibly into infinity, until there’s a winner. Ties are fine: It’s OK to have a competition where two sides give it their all and come away able to acknowledge at the end of the day that they were equal in that contest.
The one problem with the Ravens’ proposal? It doesn’t go far enough. Spot and choose shouldn’t just be the system for overtime, but for the entire game.
Kickoffs are known to be dangerous, and it’s not just a recent development that the NFL has been trying to modify them in the name of safety — generally by putting in rules that lead to more touchbacks. Wedge blocking survived on kickoffs for more than a century after the banning of the deadly flying wedge from regular play, and while recent changes have led to punts now being more dangerous than kickoffs, it’s not as if kickoffs are safe now, or ever will be.
Football, of course, is inherently dangerous, but the game could be safer — and more interesting — by removing them from the game entirely and replacing them with spot-and-choose.
Would we miss the thrill of seeing kickoffs get returned for touchdowns? Absolutely. But like a pitcher hitting a home run, the occasional ultra-highlight isn’t worth the trouble of the general malaise of a game event that far more regularly amounts to nothing, especially when we’ve already seen the pinnacle of the form.
There were 2,757 kickoffs in the NFL in 2020, and 1,687 of them (61.2%) wound up as touchbacks. Among the kickoffs that were returned, a grand total of seven were returned for touchdowns.
That’s cool and all, but it would be far more interesting if, after scoring, a team could choose where to put the ball, and have its opponent decide whether to get its offense on the field or let the team that just put points on the board retain possession. Again, it’s an additional strategic wrinkle.
What about onside kicks? They’re already out of the Pro Bowl, where teams have the option to try to gain 15 yards on one play from their own 25 instead. But imagine a team being down by one point late after scoring late in a game, and then saying, “We’ll put the ball at the offense’s 4-yard line.” That, historically, has its own danger.
What do you do as the leading team: take the ball and try to avoid a game-losing safety, or let your opponent retain possession and dare them to go 50-plus yards to get into field goal range?
The Ravens’ proposal has a chance to change football forever. It deserves to be more than just an overtime gimmick.