NFL overtime proposal does nothing for player safety

Bruschi not a fan of shortening OT (1:18)

Field Yates breaks down the NFL's proposal to shorten overtime from 15 to 10 minutes, while Tedy Bruschi explains why he is not in favor of the proposal. (1:18)

NFL owners voted Tuesday to shorten overtime to 10 minutes, and based on recent history, that will reduce wear and tear on players by .06 percent in 2017.

That's not 6 percent. Or six-tenths of 1 percent. It's a little more than half of a 10th of 1 percent.

Research by ESPN Stats & Information's Vince Masi, combined with some rudimentary math, projects the NFL could slice about 20 plays per season -- from a total of more than 32,000 -- by reducing overtime from 15 minutes to 10.

The official justification attached to the rule proposal is "player safety." Presumably, it will decrease the chances for injuries. Coaches also believe it will minimize what they consider a competitive disadvantage when playing the following week against a more rested opponent. The ideas make sense in theory, but, in a recurring theme when the NFL changes its rules, their likely effect appears minor to the point of insignificant.

Consider that in 2016, there were a total of 32,732 plays during the course of the regular season. Twenty plays in 32,732 is, well, a very small fraction of the total. Historically, there haven't been many overtime games that extend beyond 10 minutes. When they do, the amount of action past that point has mostly been negligible until a notable blip last season.

Frankly, the best argument for a 10-minute overtime is that the quality of play is brutal in the handful of games that go longer. Only the most hard-core people want to continue watching, playing or coaching.

Let's take a closer look.

There have been 560 overtime games since the start of the 1974 season, according to the NFL Record and Fact Book. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, 133 of them have gone past the 10-minute mark. That's a little less than one out of every four (23.8 percent).

To get a sense for how much players work past that 10-minute mark, we filtered the number of plays that followed. ESPN Stats & Info has data going back to 2001, and as you can see in the chart, there were five seasons between 2001 and '15 when NFL teams ran fewer than 10 total plays after the 10-minute mark in overtime.

Last season, there were six overtime games that went beyond 10 minutes, generating 60 additional plays -- at least a 16-year high. That uptick almost certainly spurred this rule proposal from the competition committee.

If you project the average number of extra plays per game (6.5) over the 560 overtime games since the start of the 1974 season, you come up with about 20 extra plays per season. How many injuries, and how much of a competitive disadvantage, can possibly be packed into such a small slice of a 16-game schedule?

We should note two caveats here.

First, the NFL runs more plays now than it did in the 1970s and 1980s because of the shift to a passing-oriented game. That should be acknowledged whenever comparing play totals over decades of NFL games. If you look at the stats since 2001, the average number of extra plays per overtime game is 22.

Second, you could argue that switching to a 10-minute overtime would speed up the final two minutes of a game that otherwise would have extended beyond that mark. Eight minutes into a 10-minute overtime, the team with the ball might use a quicker-tempo offense -- and run more plays -- to avoid a tie. You probably wouldn't see that eight minutes into a 15-minute overtime. So at least some of the plays lost by the rule change would be gained in that earlier and perhaps more frequent two-minute drill.

I can't say I have a strong position against a 10-minute overtime. The shorter the better at that point. I even question whether it will lead to more ties. As noted, the team with possession as the 10-minute mark approaches would probably increase its urgency earlier, creating the kind of frenetic pace that often leads to a score or a game-ending turnover.

I just wonder if a 10-minute overtime will have any effect on how rested players are, or aren't, for their next game. Many coaches I spoke with at the NFL owners meetings in March were adamant that it would, and to be fair, a handful of plays might seem more significant to them than us.

"The big thing for us," said Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien, "is we want to keep the sudden-death element in overtime and shorten the overtime, primarily to take some plays off these players so they can recover for the next week. I think our league is doing a great job of understanding that the safety of the player is the most important thing. ... In a 60-minute game, that's about 156 plays per game. Add onto that a 15-minute overtime, that's a lot of plays. That's the big gist there."

Said Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh: "First of all, the number of plays that these guys play, and then to have to take that to the next week, that's really a competitive disadvantage. Guys get worn out."

Harbaugh had a "second of all," and I suspect it is the true reason for this change.

"Ten minutes seems like it's long enough for sudden death," he said. "Usually by 10 minutes, it seems like everybody is trying to survive the last five. It's a hard game to play."

I think we can all agree on that.