Which Sport has the Toughest Overtime?


After this weekend, which players are struggling worse– the college basketball players who endured a five-overtime thriller at Notre Dame or the international athletes who played the equivalent of two baseball games to decide a winner in the Caribbean Series finale?

The arguments that have ruined dinners, dates, and even relationships about which sport is more difficult or has the best athletes has gone unanswered for decades. So to avoid food being thrown at the computer screen or hate e-mail I am not going to tackle that discussion.

… I am, however, going to step one rung lower on the ladder of untouchable conversations and decide which sport has the toughest way to decide a winner after regulation. And ‘toughest’ in this case has an entire impact on player recovery, team recovery, and overall overtime setup. I have played baseball, basketball, and soccer competitively so I have a small idea of the extra gas another inning or an extra period takes on the body and mind. But I have no idea (and I won’t pretend to) about football, hockey, tennis, and golf. So I will only touch on those sports’ OTs.

Golf normally ends in a playoff between the golfers tied for first. It is a sudden death format and if one golfer wins the hole it is over. If they continue to tie they continue to play different holes until a champion is finally crowned. I am by no means a good golfer. I take more pride in my cart driving ability with a cold one in my cup holder than I do my ball driving ability. Having said that you can assume that I have never walked a course and that is true. So I do not know how much that takes out of you. I have walked nine holes on a par three course and by the end I was crawling to the clubhouse. So after eighteen full-sized holes I cannot imagine the endurance these guys have to muster up to be able to walk a few more holes. But once the tournament is over golfers could not be in competitive play for another two weeks with a couple practice rounds and driving range outings in between. So I think the recovery time is plenty.

Tennis is known for its common tiebreaker to decide the winner of each game, set, and match. Basically you have to win by two points. Whether it is one game or in a specific tiebreak to decide a set winner you have to win by two. There is glaring exception, though. One of the most famous tennis tournaments, Wimbledon, has a different tiebreak for the final set. The idea of winning by two is still intact, but competitors must win the last set by two games. Wimbledon’s special rule has made for some great matches but none will ever live up to the duel that occurred on Court 18 in 2011 between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. The match lasted eleven hours and five minutes! Nearly all of that time was spent in the final set which ended up 70-68 in Isner’s favor. What’s even crazier is that it was only the tournament’s first round. Isner had to turn around and play again. Needless to say no amount of adrenaline could overcome what his body went through and he fell in his next match.

Hockey has changed its rules numerous times to attract more fans to the game. But the NHL’s regular-season rules are pretty simple now. The official NHL rules state if two teams are tied at the end of regulation those “teams will then play an additional overtime period of not more than five (5) minutes.” And if they remain tied then a shootout ensues. Three players from each team one by one take on the opposing goalkeeper. If they are tied after the first three players shoot from each team then it becomes a sudden death scenario. I do not understand how physically grueling hockey is, but I have skated once and I was sore for days after. So, if after sixty minutes of skating you asked me to go for five more minutes you would be surprised at my answer. I would probably say yes. Especially if you put me in a competitive situation with my blood pumping. Hockey players may be sore for a day, but after all of the hits they take they may already be numb.

Football has so many different levels that it would be hard to touch on all of them. I will focus on the NFL for this argument. In the NFL teams can only play one overtime period in the regular season. I am sure by now most of us know how the rules work, except for maybe Donovan McNabb. If the receiving team scores a touchdown on their first possession the game is over. If they kick a field goal then the opposing team has a chance to score as well. If the receiving team doesn’t score then it becomes a sudden death period and the first team to score wins. The worst part about the NFL’s overtime is not the setup, it is the fact that the teams can tie. But beyond the setup an extra period of football to some of these meatheads in the NFL is probably no different on their body. Plus, they have a whole week to recover.

Of those four that I am unfamiliar with I believe that tennis has the toughest ‘overtime’ because it is always in a tournament setting and rest is minimal. Plus you could find yourself in a 130+ game set and eleven hours later you have to hustle over to your next match. My feet hurt just thinking about it.

Soccer has a similar overtime structure to that of hockey. There are glaring differences though. At the professional level the overtime periods are not a sudden death. Also, after a ninety-plus minute match players have to lace up for two more fifteen minute periods to decide a victor. In matches that are not championships or tournament setting the game can end in a draw if the scores are still knotted after one-hundred twenty minutes of soccer. If there must be a winner then penalty kicks will decide the winner. Of all the things the public harps on soccer for this is one I can agree with most. Shooting on goal is such a small part of the game of soccer that it is unfair to make it the deciding factor. But it is what it is and if nothing else it creates great drama. A full overtime can take a real toll on the body too. I have been involved in multiple games where I played about 110 of those 120 minutes and the next day I was so exhausted I was late to class. All of that running really builds up lactic acid in the joints. However, one long jog and I was ready for the next game in three days.

Basketball can become a marathon game if the game gets past two overtimes. All levels of basketball have unlimited overtimes, but they are just different period lengths. Notre Dame and Louisville went through an extra twenty-five minutes Saturday night to declare a winner. But more impressive Syracuse and UConn put on a show a couple years ago going six overtimes before the Orangemen came out on top. That game is a great example of how much an extra thirty minutes can have on a team.  After that grueling game (almost two games actually) Syracuse turned around the next day and knocked off West Virginia–in overtime. A day later, in the finals, Louisville put a stop to ‘Cuse’s epic run and won the conference tournament. Most of the time your legs do not give out for two days and Rick Pitino and the Cardinals had the advantage of playing Syracuse two days after a six overtime game.

Baseball is unlike most sports because it is not a timed event and they play it nearly every day while in season. Though, most people note players for being overweight and slow there is still an element of endurance involved in the game. A lot of the game involves a mental toughness and also muscular endurance. Of all of these sports and their overtime periods baseball is the toughest sport when it comes to extra time. Tennis is a close second, but the fact that these players can end up playing six to nine more innings after already playing through the original nine and then less than twenty-hours later do it all over again is nothing short of impressive. Sure most players don’t leave a game dripping sweat and out of breath from constantly running, but if a game goes into extra innings more pitchers have to pitch. These guys aren’t playing slow pitch softball. They are hurling a ball ninety miles per hour every time. And when they aren’t they are contorting their arms to throw an off-speed breaking ball. Pitchers cannot do that day in and day out. Your pitching staff is half of your ball club. If you had to throw all of your relievers last night your going to overextend your starter’s arm today so your bullpen can get a little rest. But if your starter gets rocked then what do you do? Extra innings can impact a series and even impact a season. So while other sports may have tough overtimes in tournaments and/or certain stretches of the season baseball has it all season long.

Speaking of baseball, pitchers and catchers reported! I can smell the hot dogs and leather mitts now!

Which sport is toughest? Let me know in the comment section or on Twitter @Believelander.

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