Is the NFL's Scarcity of Ties a Good Thing?
As we stand of the eve of another NFL season, let's consider the efficacy of regular season overtime games in the league. They were first implemented in 1974 to greatly reduce the number of games that ended in tie. Previously, overtime games in the NFL were reserved for the post-season. Ironically, the first ever regular season overtime game in the NFL, played in September of 1974 between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Denver Broncos, ended in a 35-35 tie. Despite this anomaly, the regular season overtime rule has been very successful in eliminating ties.
In the 32 seasons that this rule has been in effect, there have only been 16 ties, exactly one every two seasons. But further analysis seems to show a trend toward fewer ties, as there have been only three ties in the last 16 seasons, compared to 13 in the previous 16 seasons.
Actually, ties seem to come in spurts, with long dry spells before and after. In 1997, there were ties in back-to-back weeks. However, during the seven seasons leading up to that one, there were none, and in the eight seasons since then, there has only been one. To look at it another way, there were only two tie games in the NFL during the decade of the 1990's and they occurred on consecutive weeks in 1997.
However, what has been the major fallout of this scarcity of tie games? Curiously enough, it has led to more ties in the standings and has increased the need to utilize tie-breakers. It's a matter of simple mathematics.
Since a tie has been virtually eliminated has a possible outcome of any given game, there are just two realistic possibilities left for any given team - a win or a loss. So, after game one, a team can have record of either 1-0 or 0-1. After game two, a team can have record of either 2-0, 1-1, or 0-2. Carried over 16 games, there are 17 possible records a team can have (always one more than the number of games they play).
Now, let's go back to the pre-1974 rules when a team faced three realistic outcomes when they stepped onto the playing field. After the first game, a team can have a record of 1-0-0, 0-1-0, or 0-0-1. After the second game, a team can have a record of 2-0-0, 0-2-0, 1-1-0, 0-0-2, 1-0-1, or 0-1-1. Notice a pattern? Instead of having the possible records equal to one more than the number of games played, it is equal to three times the number of games played. Carried over 16-game season, that would be 48 possible records for any given team.
With only 17 possible records per team vs. the 48 it would be by allowing ties as a realistic possibility, the possibility of two or more teams in the same division and/or conference finishing with the same record greatly increased when overtime became a part of the NFL's regular season. In the NFL, ties in the standings are not broken on the field, but rather by somewhat questionable criteria, by which a team could be left out of the playoffs based on a point differential or even a coin flip. While no one likes tie games (as it is said, they are like kissing your sister), I would prefer tie games to ties in the standings.
Terry Mitchell is a software engineer, freelance writer, and trivia buff from Hopewell, VA. He also serves as a political columnist for American Daily and operates his own website - www.commenterry.com - on which he posts commentaries on various subjects such as politics, technology, religion, health and well-being, personal finance, and sports. His commentaries offer a unique point of view that is not often found in mainstream media.