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by Cliff Johnson

Some readers might well conclude, after reading the following "tie game" comments, that at age 82 perhaps I've finally jumped off the rails of reality.  Nevertheless, it's time to express my personal thoughts about why multiple overtimes, tiebreaker events, extra innings, or long, drawn-out ways to end athletic contests are not usually in the best interests of either the contestants or the spectators.  Game results, I believe, should not be based on which contestant is the first to run out of energy.  There must be a more rational way to determine which opponent has played the better game in its normally accepted timeframe.  That contestant should be declared the winner.

Many of us are aware of the 18-inning playoff game recently between the Dodgers and Brewers that lasted nearly six hours.  But honestly, how many of us stayed awake past midnight to watch the conclusion?  It's questionable whether either the viewers or the players really enjoyed that experience.  On May 8, 1984, the Brewers and White Sox went 25 innings and in excess of 8 hours before the game finally concluded in a 7-6 White Sox victory (on the following day).  A recent ITF tournament tennis match kept the combatants on the court for nearly six hours after four long sets had ended in parity.  Football games have dragged on an extra hour or more after the game clock expired with the score tied.  At that point, are the opposing linemen still at their optimal performance levels, or are they just automatically going through the motions of blocking and tackling simply to outlast their foes?  Endurance, while important, must still be thought of as a factor secondary to playing skills.

Basketball games, at present, can also become endurance tests rather than contests of skill & will, whenever overtime play ensues.  Sometimes, a game never seems to end.  Most fans knowing Hoosier Hysteria history can recall the 9-overtime contest between Swayzee and Liberty Center during the 1964 Marion regional.  The point is, once many of the top players on either or both teams have fouled out after a few overtime periods, will the final score truly reflect which team has proven itself superior to the other?  If you're a purist regarding talent, your answer will be a resounding "NO!"

Furthermore, how is all that extra effort and drainage of physical strength going to affect the players in their next contest?  That's significant, especially in tournament play when the next contest might be only a few hours away.  Tournament titles in the past have been lost solely as the result of fatigue from an earlier contest that lasted too long.

So, what are some ways in which contests could terminate in the allotted timeframes (or segments of play) without requiring extra time to conclude them?

Well, for basketball, tied scores could still be denoted as (TS) or (TG), just as overtimes currently are--with the added (OT) in print.  But in such cases, the official winner would be the team in possession of the ball when time runs out.  The best aspect of winning by having ball possession at the end of a tied game is that coaches would be forced to develop game-ending strategies in the final few minutes that would require careful consideration for gaining or maintaining possession of the ball as either the shot clock or the game clock runs down.   Spectator tension and excitement during close games would also continue, owing to the added importance of ball possession while the tied game draws to a close.

This idea would of course require a revised rule to eliminate the tendency to commit deliberate fouls toward the end of games, but such a revision is long overdue anyway.  We're all weary of watching the constant parade to the foul line in the last minute or two of tight games.  The way to rectify that is to award ball possession back to the fouled team, whether the penalty free throw is made or not.  Then, good defensive tactics such as double-teaming, trapping, applying pressure, forcing 5-second calls, and intercepting passes, would once again prevail and replace the present obscene practice of deliberate fouling.

The same "ball possession" ending might be applied to football games, in the event of tie scores.  "Taking a knee" would need to be purged from the rules, but that would be an improvement to the game, in the minds of many (to give the team on defense some chance).

Many of us are old enough to remember when football games could end in ties.  That was before today's College Bowl Series, divisional playoff games, and the Super Bowl arrived.  Nowadays, because of the tournament-like nature of the sport during the final days of a season, one team and one team only must be declared the victor of any game. 

That being the case, there are many ways to determine the winner of a tied football game following the full 60 minutes of play, without resorting to a sometimes-marathon ending where matched field goals or touchdowns can continue on and on, leading to players becoming exhausted.

A second idea is to use game statistics, routinely compiled as the game proceeds, to determine the winner.  That could be done by comparing total yards gained by each team, or perhaps the total number of ball possessions.  Maybe even the most clock time having possession.  All those statistics are routinely kept and recorded by off-field officials, so they could be used to announce the winner if the score is tied after the allotted 60 minutes has expired.  In the far-fetched event that all those numbers come out even as well, more could be considered such as total first downs or even punting yardage.  There are enough football game statistics to eliminate any possibility of needing added playing time to determine the winner.

The winner of a tennis match at the end of tied sets could be determined by acknowledging the player with the most games won during all the previously completed sets.  If those numbers also result in a tie, then one final game (but not a set) could be played, with whichever opponent whose legitimate turn it is serving the ball.  In some cases, that would make the pre-match coin toss to determine who serves first a bit more significant.  Yet eliminating the sometimes-torturous added play brought on by the current tiebreaker rule overshadows the extra but small advantage gained by the player who is awarded first service in a match.  On this same theme, some tennis organizations have begun to realize how much of a toll it takes on male players to require a best-of-five match, so their recent conversions to a best-of-three is helping to alleviate the fatigue and injury factors.

Settlements of baseball game ties could be a bit more complicated owing to the nine innings of the "first and last at-bats" requirement for each team.  But here's an idea:  Since runs, hits, and errors are always displayed on baseball scoreboards in full view of spectators, perhaps the team with the most hits combined with the fewest errors could be declared the winner of a tied game.   Displaying the number of on-base occurrences or possibly a running "total bases" figure might be preferable to showing the total hits.  But let's face it--these proposed improvements to conclude tied games are not likely to be adopted during my lifetime or yours.

Continuing the fantasy though, if all numbers still turned out to be even after nine innings, then going to extra innings might be unavoidable.  It should not happen often.  But even then, such an extra-innings game should never continue on very long if the following simple rule were applied:  When any subsequent inning ends with one team reaching base more times or getting farther around the bases than the other team does, it then must be declared the victor.  Excitement to the very end!

Extended play ordinarily doesn't prove which contestant is better than the other.  Such extensions can be needlessly exhausting to both participants and spectators when they drag on indefinitely.  In my view, there are better and quicker ways to deal with ties in athletic contests.

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