How should a sporting event that’s tied at the end of regulation be decided? Just make the two teams keep playing until someone scores? Give both teams an opportunity before it’s over? Create a whole new set of rules in an attempt to get a final result sooner?
If you watched yesterday’s NFL conference championships, surely you found yourself contemplating this very question. Was it fair that the Patriots, by virtue of winning a coin toss, were able to march down the field and score the walk-off touchdown that sent them to yet another Super Bowl while the Chiefs never even got a chance to send their offense back onto the field?
If you didn’t think it was fair, what’s your solution? Guarantee one possession for each team? Use college rules and let each team have a possession that starts at the 25-yard line? Make them play a full 15 minutes and reward whichever team is ahead when the clock expires?
Thankfully, this isn’t an issue in baseball. At least not in the majors. Yet.
The minor leagues did adopt a radical rule change in 2018: If any game went to extra innings, each team would begin all subsequent half-innings with a runner already on second base. The idea was to avoid pitchers, many of them top prospects, getting overtaxed from the extra workload.
In that respect, the change was helpful. But from a strategic standpoint, few seemed to like it. Managers’ approach to extra innings was pretty universal: With a runner already on second base to begin the inning, they would have their next batter try to bunt him over to third. Opposing managers then would intentionally walk the next hitter to set up a potential inning-ending double play. Which left the fate of the game in the hands of the subsequent batter, who simply needed to drive home a runner from third with one out.
The fear: Major League Baseball might someday consider instituting this change. If not for the 10th inning, then for the 12th inning and beyond. Here’s hoping that never happens.
To me, there should be no gimmicks following regulation play, in any sport. Sudden death works great in hockey. A 5-minute overtime period works well in basketball. I don’t have a problem with the way the NFL does it - hey, just play stingy defense and you’ll have no complaints! - but if they were going to change, I’d support playing out a full 10- or 15-minute overtime.
Baseball? Keep it the way it’s always been. The visiting team gets to bat, then the home team gets to bat. If it’s still tied after the 10th, proceed to the 11th and beyond.
Yes, you run the risk of burning out a long reliever’s arm or even being forced into using a position player on the mound come the 17th or 18th inning. But those are extremely rare scenarios, and I’d much rather see that happen than watch a team automatically sacrifice a lead runner to third base and then try to drive him in with a simple fly ball.
There’s nothing more dramatic in sports than a game that extends beyond regulation. Let’s make sure the players and managers involved are allowed to simply continue playing as they have throughout the game, to keep duking it out until someone emerges on top. No gimmicks, please.