Since this method was adopted, coin-toss winners have come out on top about 55 percent of the time. But in the last six years, according to a study by scholars Peter A. Rosen of the University of Evansville and Rick L. Wilson of Oklahoma State University, coin-toss winners have won only 49 percent of the games.
The NCAA has found an option that is as close to perfectly fair as you could want with just as much drama as the NFL version. And you'd have to look hard to find any college fan who would trade it for sudden death.
So why does the NFL stick to its system? Every so often, it agrees to consider a change, but nothing ever happens, because the league and the owners think the status quo is just wonderful.
Reaching that conclusion requires some weird mental gymnastics. In 2004, Atlanta Falcons general manager Rich McKay said, "One play can end the game, and that's unique to our league." Actually, one play can end the game in college overtime, too. In fact, one play -- the last one -- does exactly that every time.
Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome came up with an even odder rationalization. "The system that we have in place right now is, to me, very competitive," he insisted. "Look, if you lose the coin toss, you just go out and play good defense and you get the football. Simple as that." If playing good defense is so important, why not guarantee both teams a chance to do it?
The NFL is exceptionally popular partly because it offers the best football players in a league where success demands excellence week in and week out. But when it comes to settling tie games, the NFL has embraced inferiority.