Appreciating Extra Innings

I was in Vancouver last weekend following along with the hockey games and got to raging against the overtime method used in the final game. I can understand limiting overtimes during the run up to the medal games as there are a lot of games to play in a short amount of time but for the medal games I firmly believe it should stay 5-on-5 and go until somebody scores.

My discussion on the matter lead me back to thinking about NFL’s overtime rules, which seem to be under review, and then to Tango’s two prompts about possible rule changes in baseball and it clicked how much I enjoy baseball’s overtime rules compared to every other sports.

To me, baseball gets it perfect. I want overtimes to not fundamentally change the sport and I want them to present equitable opportunities for both teams. The NFL fails drastically on the latter aspect and college football on the former. I think shootouts and penalty kicks and other gimmicks are dumb, but tolerable if you really cannot stomach the idea of a tie and they are contained to the regular season only.

When it comes to the playoffs though, you need to let the players play the sport they’re being paid for. Does anyone enjoy the World Cup being decided on penalty kicks? The US-Canada gold medal game was thrilling but the chance of a shootout deciding it was a possible wet blanket hovering over the enthralling overtime period.

I know some people toy around with the idea of modifying the innings once extras are reached. I understand the thoughts behind starting each inning with a man on second for example, but I am perfectly content with extra innings as they are now. It makes games longer, sure, but that extra tension is part of the fun for me.

I am by no means a traditionalist and generally welcome discussion on any subject that might conceivably make a sport more enjoyable, but it’s a subjective measure of enjoyment and personally there’s no way to top what we have now. Kudos, baseball, for getting that one right.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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Well, baseball is popularly notorious for going on and on and on, even when it’s just nine innings, so it’s appropriate that the tie-breaker rule should be more of the same.

And there is something to be said for those absolutely epic 14+ inning affairs where you see almost two full games and every player from both teams and it seems the game ultimately turns on which team’s worst bullpen arm is actually the worst.

When it comes to the other sports (I don’t know how much we should wander off baseball, but you opened the door), I much prefer the college football overtime rules to the NFL, but then I prefer just about every rule difference in college to the NFL. A big part of the reason I watch college football (and generally can’t be bothered with the snoozefest of the No Fun League) is for all the unexpected gadget plays. The college overtime rules just give you that in condensed form (especially the on the occasions it goes to triple overtime and they have to start going for the 2 point conversion every time).

I actually don’t have a problem with the way the Olympic hockey rule worked (especially since they were playing on the smaller NHL ice — having four skaters got it back to the more open international hockey feel, which I prefer). But I think they should actually extend it: every five minutes the extra period goes on, each team has to remove one more player (skater or goalie, at the coach’s discretion). So the first five minutes you’d have five players, the second five minutes you’d have four, the third five minutes you’d have three, and in the final five minutes it would be two on two — almost a shoot-out, but better (substitutions would be pretty tricky at that point, requiring the goalie to ice the puck while the skaters changed). If that’s too extreme, I suppose you could start out with the full six players and count down from there, ending at 3 on 3. But at least then the shoot-out would seem like the natural end-point of a progression, rather than a lamely artificial way to force a resolution.

(MLB soccer should go into its extra time the same way, IMO, pulling a player every few minutes until somebody scores.)