Structural Flaws: NFL’s Third Challenge For Head Coaches

In Structural Flaws, I will discuss a particular rule or organizational structure in sports and explain why I agree or disagree with the issue. In this edition…the NFL’s third challenge for head coaches.


The NFL’s replay system has tremendously improved the game by allowing for incorrect calls to be overturned if video evidence clearly shows that the call was wrong. With so many moving parts and with human officials trying to watch every player on every play, there are going to be mistakes. The replay system does a great job of correcting missed calls, which is good for all parties involved.

The challenge system is the method by which coaches can instigate a review. Each head coach gets two challenges per game. If any challenge is successful, the call is overturned and the team issuing the challenge does not lose a time out. If any challenge is unsuccessful, the call stands and the team issuing the challenge loses a time out. If any team is successful on its first two challenges, the team receives a third challenge which they can use in the same manner as the first two. A team can only issue a challenge if they have at least one time out remaining in the half. All plays in the final two minutes of each half and overtime are not subject to coaches’ challenges. Instead, decisions regarding whether any of these plays should be reviewed by the referee are determined by replay officials. All scoring plays and turnovers are also not subject to coaches’ challenges, as these plays are automatically reviewed by the replay officials, who will let the referee know if the play does indeed need to be officially reviewed.

This system does a good job of correcting mistakes. An argument could definitely be made for scrapping the challenge system altogether and replacing it with the system used in the last two minutes of each half and overtime, but for now I will focus on the challenge system as it currently exists. There is one particular part of the challenge system that I really disagree with, that being the rewarding of a third challenge to any team that wins their first two challenges.

I do not believe a team should be rewarded a third challenge simply because they won their first two. I do not think it is not a skill to win two challenges, and therefore, it should not be rewarded with an extra one. Most of the time when a team issues a challenge, they are not necessarily confident that they are going to win the challenge. Sometimes the game situation just calls for a challenge to be made. For example, if a team gives up a big play that has a major detrimental impact on their chances to win the game, that team would practically be compelled to challenge the play if there is any question that the call might not be correct. The result of this replay should have no bearing on whether or not this team should receive another challenge.

Challenges are usually issued because there is a CHANCE they could be overturned and help your team, not because the team has exhibited some great skill and therefore has proven itself worthy of having more opportunities to do so again later in the game.

I suppose the argument could be made that if a team has had two bad calls go against them, and those calls have been overturned, then they deserve to get more chances because it is not their fault the officials messed up. My argument to that is that such a system discourages teams from challenging calls unless they are almost certain they will win the challenge. I contend that teams should be able to challenge questionable plays without the fear that losing a challenge could result in them not getting an extra one later. It is already risky enough that a team would lose a time out if a challenge fails. There should not be an extra risk of losing another opportunity to challenge simply because one or both of their two original challenges could not be overturned.

Another point to be made is that sometimes the video evidence isn’t strong enough to overturn a call even if the call on the field was incorrect. A coach might issue a challenge and be absolutely right, but if the camera wasn’t in the right spot, he could lose the challenge because the evidence cannot be physically seen on the replay. That is not the coach’s fault. The penalty of losing a time out should be enough. He should not be forced to lose an opportunity to issue an extra challenge later because of this.

So I believe that each team should get either two or three challenges per game (I don’t really have a preference), and no extra challenges should be awarded based upon the results from previous challenges.

What do you think?

Structural Flaws: College Football Overtime

In Structural Flaws, I will discuss a puzzling rule or organizational structure in sports and explain why I agree or disagree with the issue. First up…college football overtime.


For about a zillion years, NCAA football games that were tied after the 4th quarter simply ended in a tie. But in 1996, we were introduced to overtime in college football. The overtime rules have changed a little since then, but it basically goes as follows:

Each team gets one possession from the opponent’s 25-yard-line. The rules are the same (4 downs to reach 10 yards, etc.), but there is no game clock. After each team has had a possession, the team with the highest score wins. If a tie still exists after a period of overtime, another overtime period is played. If a third overtime period is reached, any team scoring a touchdown is forced to attempt a 2-point conversation, as extra points are eliminated. This system (or one similar to it) had been used in high schools for a while before being adopted by the NCAA.

In my opinion, this is a very flawed system. I believe the reasons people might like this system are because it is exciting and it eliminates ties. These are fair points, but the system is wrong on a number of levels.

First of all, kickoffs and punts do not exist in NCAA overtime. The way I see it, you’re not really playing football if there are no kickoffs and punts. In every possession during the 60 minutes of game play, a team’s starting position can be traced back to a kickoff. Yes, turnovers and punts cause that to change, but a kickoff started it all. Punting and field position are extremely important during the first 60 minutes. However, in NCAA overtime, field position does not matter, as each team begins their drive already in field goal range. That isn’t football! Football involves kicking the ball and trying to have an advantageous field position. Why should a team be able to kick a field goal if they haven’t moved the ball down the field?

Starting at the opponent’s 25-yard line also creates a disadvantage for teams that rely on big passing plays. Let’s say a team has a quarterback who excels at throwing the deep ball along with a lightning fast receiver who is great at catching long passes. And let’s say the opponent is more of a power running team. The team that relies on big plays will not have an opportunity to play to their strengths, but the team that pounds the run will.

Another odd thing about NCAA overtime is that all stats and points count the same as they do during the first 60 minutes. So if a game goes to 2 overtime periods and a quarterback throws a touchdown in each one, that quarterback gets credit for those 2 touchdown passes, even though he didn’t have to move the team up the field to get that close to the end zone! How does that make sense? Similarly, the entire team gets those 6 or 7 or 8 points, even though they started out almost in the red zone. I’m not sure what the best solution would be for this aspect of NCAA overtime, but it’s just weird to see some of the stat lines from overtime games. A multiple-overtime game can also cause a team’s points per game average to be unfairly bloated.

If you ever watch a game go into 3 or 4 overtimes, it can be silly because the entire game often rests on the 2-point conversion plays. By the time a game reaches that point, almost every player on the field is really tired, and teams often score quickly. Those 2-point plays can sometimes come down to sheer luck or some fluky play.

For me, the solution is to switch to the NFL overtime system or something similar to it. A couple years ago, the NFL changed their overtime rules, and they now have what I consider to be a phenomenal system. The NFL used to have a pure sudden death system, where the first team to score wins. This would sometimes result in a team winning the coin toss and then going down and kicking a field goal, with the other team never getting a chance to possess the ball in overtime. But the current system has eliminated that possibility. Now, if the first team kicks a field goal on its first possession, the second team can kick a field goal of their own to tie the game, which would then send the game into sudden death at that point.

The NFL system seems confusing, but remember… the only time the game does not immediately end on a scoring play is if the first team kicks a field goal on its first possession. When that happens, the other team has a chance to match or beat that.

The NFL system is not the easiest in the world to explain, but it is actually very simple in practice. Most importantly, it keeps the essential parts of the game intact. You’re still kicking the ball and playing the field position game, just like you are throughout the other 60 minutes. And you have to earn your way across the field to get into scoring range.

If an NFL game is tied after the 15-minute overtime period, the game simply ends in a tie. Many fans hate the idea of ties in both college and pro football, but I think it’s pretty cool. in fact, with this new NFL system, we could very easily see more ties. If that happens, I hope they don’t change the system. The system works as is. You can’t expect football players to play more than 4 hours, so just call it a tie and move on.

I would like to see the NCAA scrap their system and go for one that brings special teams back into play and keeps football looking the same as it did for the first 60 minutes. What do you think?