Outlier NCAA football overtime games draw the attention of the college football universe.
Saturday's Illinois-Penn State nine-overtime contest shined a light on the football rules that went into effect this season, where teams are required to run alternating 2-point plays, instead of possession series that begin at the 25-yard line, once a game reaches a third extra period.
The NCAA Football Rules Committee made the recommendation on the rules change last March, and it was approved by the Playing Rules Oversight Panel in April. The rationale for the change was to decrease the number of snaps for the players, who have already played a regulation game and two overtime periods.
While the Illinois-Penn State game officially went nine overtimes, the number of plays run from the third through the ninth overtimes totaled 14. The two teams combined to run 23 plays in the first two overtimes, where each possession began at the 25-yard line.
By comparison, during the 2020 season, the average number of overtime plays in the Football Bowl Subdivision was 14.4 per overtime game.
"When the rules committee surveyed this, the college approach to overtime was overwhelmingly favorable," said David Shaw, chair of the Football Rules Committee and head coach at Stanford. "The challenge is to end the game as fairly and safely as possible. At some point, the game needs to end, and the 2-point play, we think, is the best option."
The impetus for the rules change was a seven-overtime game between Texas A&M and LSU in 2018. Around 200 plays were run (not counting special teams and plays in which penalties were called) in the game, and rules committee members thought that was too many plays for college football players to endure.
The 2019 and 2020 seasons called for the alternating 2-point conversions to begin when a game reached a fifth overtime. But the rule was tweaked this season to having the alternating 2-point plays begin in the third overtime.
"The rule is centered around player health and safety," said Steve Shaw, the NCAA secretary-rules editor for football and the national coordinator of officials. "When you've had 60 minutes and two overtime periods and still haven't determined a winner, it's time to get the student-athletes off the field."
Another part in the tweaking of the football overtime rules requires teams to run a 2-point conversion play after a touchdown when a game reaches a second overtime period. Teams can still choose whether to kick the point after touchdown or run a 2-point conversion play in the first overtime.
In NCAA football games played in all three divisions through Oct. 23, only six games have reached a third overtime. They are:
- 9 overtimes: Illinois 20, Penn State 18.
- 4 overtimes: Texas State 33, South Alabama 31.
- 3 overtimes: San Diego State 33, Utah 31.
- 5 overtimes: Princeton 18, Harvard 16.
- 3 overtimes: Pace 39, Franklin Pierce 31.
- 5 overtimes: Susquehanna 30, Franklin & Marshall 28.
In the three divisions, 84 NCAA football games have reached overtime during the 2021 season. A winner has been determined in the first or second overtime 78 times (92.9%).
NCAA football overtime rules began in 1996.
Before the NCAA Football Rules Committee went to the alternating 2-point conversion route instead of starting every overtime drive at the 25-yard line, teams were required to run 2-point conversion plays following touchdowns once a game reached a third overtime.
"Sometimes the only way you get a differential between the two teams is a 2-point play," Steve Shaw said. "That has been recognized for quite some time. The rules committee believes this is a good way to limit the play count and still get a winner in the traditional way the game is played."