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Coin Flipping

What a most memorable week we just experienced last week! Two of our area’s true sports icons both achieved monumental recognition in their respective sports. Montoursville’s Mike Mussina culminated a six-year climb up the Baseball Hall of Fame voting ladder and received the ultimate call that he has been elected to be enshrined in Cooperstown

What a most memorable week we just experienced last week! Two of our area’s true sports icons both achieved monumental recognition in their respective sports.

Montoursville’s Mike Mussina culminated a six-year climb up the Baseball Hall of Fame voting ladder and received the ultimate call that he has been elected to be enshrined in Cooperstown on July 21. A few days prior Loyalsock’s Ron Insinger became the only man in Pennsylvania high school basketball to win 1,000 games as his Lancers doubled-up Hughesville 66-33 just hours before the area was blanketed with the unwelcomed snow storm.

Just two days prior I sat in the Loyalsock gym bearing his name glancing up at all the banners adorning the walls and thought just how remarkable his 45-year run at the Lancer helm has been. With what is a bit of irony, on this publication date (January 30) Mussina will take his Montoursville Warriors basketball into that very same gym to play Insinger’s Lancers. I’d love to be a ‘fly on the wall’ to listen to what the two coaches talk about during their pre-game chat. Knowing them both, no doubt most of the conversation will be about the high school teams they coach, not the honors they have both so truly earned.

Sometimes in the sports writing business, you find yourself searching for a column topic just hours before a deadline looms. Now, in this instance, pops up two once-in-a-lifetime stories that deserve maximum coverage due to their uniqueness. So which one to cover – Mussina or Insinger? I guess I’ll flip a coin.

Flip a coin? Are you flipping nuts? How is that a good way to settle a dilemma? I’m surely not going to consult the National Football League for their opinion.

Good old Wikipedia references coin flipping, or heads or tails, as the practice of throwing a coin in the air and checking which side is showing when it lands, in order to choose between two alternatives. The party who calls the correct side wins.

Maybe that is a good idea to see who shovels the snow, takes out the garbage or walks the dog, but in the name of completive professional sports, it doesn’t strike me as a particularly good way to send a team to the Super Bowl.

In case you weren’t watching, or turned off the TV in disgust after that horrendous ‘no-call’ on the blatantly ignored pass-inference collision that gave the Los Angeles Rams a gift-trip to this Sunday’s ultimate game; it was a ‘coin flip’ that was the determining factor in New England’s exciting 37-31 overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC title game.

Love em’ or hate em’, you’ve got to give Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and company credit as they will be making their third trip in four years to the Super Bowl seeking their sixth title in the big game. They played the game under the established NFL rules and correctly called ‘heads’ as the teams prepared to head into overtime with the game tied at 31-31. They received the kickoff and marched right down the field for the winning touchdown, and all the Chiefs offense could do was watch from the sideline.

After six months of sweat and toil, 16 regular season games and playoff victories the NFL is still reverting to ‘flipping a coin’ in the game leading to the Super Bowl. The Patriots are a very good football team. They are also adept at calling coin tosses. While they don’t always win the toss, they always call heads as they did leading to their victory over the Chiefs.

But ‘flipping a coin’ may not be the fairest way to settle a dispute. About a decade ago statistician Persi Diaconis wondered if the outcome of a coin flip is really a matter of chance. He had Harvard University engineers build him a mechanical coin flipper. Using the device, his studies found that if a coin is launched exactly the same way, it lands exactly the same way. If a coin starts out heads, it ends up heads more often than not.

Since adopting the coin toss in an overtime game in 1974, the NFL has had 574 overtime games. During that time more than 25% of the teams that lost the coin toss never touched the ball. Since 1994, the team that won the overtime coin toss has won the game 34.4% of the time on the first possession.

There’s got to be a better way. There is, and despite their many administrative flaws the NCAA’s overtime rule provides true competitive balance and is a lot more fun to watch.

College football’s overtime rules give each team a possession at the defense’s 25-yard line. Play commences using normal game rules. Play continues with alternate possessions until a winner can be determined. Starting with a third extra period teams must go for a two-point conversion after scoring a touchdown.

It’s a pretty simple, clear-cut and an extremely fair way to determine a winner. I don’t expect it to happen, but maybe the NFL should go to a class studying the college rule. Because of the proficiency of its placekickers perhaps the NFL could modify the college rule by beginning the alternate possessions at the 50-yard line, or even place the ball at the offensive teams own 25-yard line as they do now when kickoffs reach the end zone.

With so much at stake in the professional game, it’s time for a change in the overtime rules. Reducing what are competitive games tied at the end of regulation play to a game of chance determined by a ‘coin flip’ is a pretty silly way to operate a multi-billion dollar business.

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