You ain’t seen nothing yet : CFL asks fans to tinker with overtime

“What is going on?”

“Seriously, what is going on?”

I have a frequent tendency to watch sporting events and work on school projects at the same time. It’s a process that invariably needs a delicate balance of patience, willpower and a severe limitation of home audio. This whole shebang works beautifully, as long as I know the ins and outs of the sport I’m watching. I really thought I knew nearly everything about CFL football until Oct. 17, 2009 when the Saskatchewan Roughriders tied the Calgary Stampeders 44-44 following regulation and double overtime.

I watched overtime with the television muted — that’s pretty much a must for a student who’s supposed to be studying but gets distracted by any and all form of noise whatsoever. At first I thought either TSN or the CFL were playing a joke on me. One team scored a touchdown, then the other one scored a touchdown, then it happened again and again. There was no time clock, the graphic on the screen simply said “overtime.”

“So, what,” I thought, “sudden death?”

Not so much.

“First team not to score loses?”


Officially, the CFL overtime rules are as follows:

“The first team, as determined by coin toss, shall scrimmage the ball at the opponent’s 35-yard line and may advance by consecutive series of downs until it makes a score or loses possession. The second team will then scrimmage at the same 35-yard line and proceed as above. If the score is still tied, the procedure shall be repeated at the opposite end of the stadium. A winner is determined only if both teams have had equal opportunities to score. If a winner is not determined after two attempts, the game will be declared a tie. If the game is a playoff or championship game and a winner must be determined, the same procedure shall continue until a winner is finally declared.”

What the fuck? What’s the point of having such a crazy arbitrary set of overtime rules if it’s not guaranteed you’ll even determine a winner?

Late last month the CFL asked fans to send in their own ideas in an effort to help tweak certain rules and regulations. Of particular interest this year for the CFL is the nature of their overtime games. Is the series of downs format superior to overtime periods? Should play start from somewhere other than the 35-yard line? Should teams be barred from attempting field goals or required to attempt two-point converts? Essentially, they are voting by comity to piece together a Frankenstein version of the game that is played in regulation.

“We have tremendous respect for the knowledge of our fans, and their dedication to the tradition and future of our league,” CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said in a press release. “We’d like to turn that informal overtime discussion into specific ideas that our league can consider as it looks towards the 2010 season.”

What’s perhaps most perplexing about this whole debacle is that the CFL has tried so hard to create a working, logical format for overtime that they’ve completely overlooked the most fundamental, most simple solution: more time. In the NBA when two teams are tied in regulation, as in the MLB extra innings and in the NHL playoffs extra periods, the game goes into extra time. The only reason the CFL might be leaning more toward their crazy system of guaranteed downs rather than extra time is the argument that the current format is more exciting.

The problem with excitement in sports is that it doesn’t necessarily have to make any sense. In trying to appeal to a larger audience the CFL is likely alienating a lot of casual viewers who’ve lost track of why certain rules even matter if you just throw them out the window when the game is on the line. As much as it makes for good highlights, I doubt basketball fans would appreciate overtime being decided by a slam-dunk competition. If the CFL is absolutely dead-set on creating some sort of artificial excitement in their overtime games, they should at least try to strike a balance between something that is entertaining and something that is relevant, because right now Canadian football overtime resembles something more of a shootout than a game of pigskin.

But really, if you’re shooting for pure excitement in your overtime frame, there’s only two words needed to capture the hearts and minds of sports fans the world over: multi-ball scramble.