Friday, July 07, 2006

Bring Back the Tie | by Jay

The World Cup reminded me of something I've been meaning to post for a while. No, it's not that football is better than soccer; this is something much more controversial. We need to bring the Tie back to college football.

Hear me out. I know it's tough to get over that mental hurdle that says that in any contest there must be a winner and a loser. It's not really part of the American mindset to accept the brutal reality of a stalemate. There's got to be a winner eventually, right? But ties are good, in that they are truthful. They say something about the balanced quality of the opponents; sometimes teams are so evenly matched that neither deserves to win, and neither deserves to lose.

Some of the best games in college football history were Ties, and a goofy overtime with bastardized ground rules would have spoiled the pristine, elemental reality of those classic deadlocks. 10-10. 0-0. Important, almost mythical game scores in the history of ND football. The terrible beauty of the ND-Michigan State Game of the Century is the image of two teams, the best in the country, slugging it out until time expires, a battered and bloody and ultimately honorable standoff. As Ara implored in the locker room after the game, "We did not win, but by God, we did not lose." A cheap contest of "who can score from the 25" would have rendered the significance of that game moot.

Along with negating the possibility of a monumental tie, overtime also warps the endgame of a football match, in that last-second decisions to "go for it" have all but disappeared. Take the '84 Orange Bowl. Undefeated #1 Nebraska scored a TD with :24 seconds left to bring them within a point of Miami, 31-30. A one-point PAT would have iced a tie, and Nebraska may have gone on to win the championship in a vote. But to his credit, Huskers coach Tom Osborne elected to go for two. Turner Gill's pass was tipped and fell short, and Miami won the title. Despite losing the ring, Osborne's legacy was actually enhanced by his decision to go for it -- a decision that he wouldn't have made with the possibility of an "overtime" period.

In any case, before 1996, ties weren't all that frequent:

Prior to the OT rules in 1996, about 2% of the games ended in a tie. In 1996, that immediately doubled to nearly 4% of games going to overtime. It's easy to see why this happened. Per this USA Today article, one-point PAT kicks are successful 92% of the time, while two-point conversions are only 46% successful. With the game on the line, why not hit the extra point and take your chances in overtime? Before, kicking that PAT and accepting a tie was a momentous decision fraught with consequence, but now it's the safe choice, and really, the only choice. But are we really better off with double the number of overtime games (some of them simply absurd) just because our fragile sports psyches presumably can't handle a tie? I think not.

Those gut-clenching moments -- does Jimmah have the balls to go for it, or will he take the tie? -- are now forever impossible. Bring back the Tie.