Extra Ends… are there alternatives?

Games that end in a tie after regulation time have been a pain in the you-know-where for all sports.  And the situation has been dealt with in many different ways. The fact is, at the playoff level, ties have to be broken.  But when it comes to preliminary or non-playoff games, a number of sports have taken other approaches. Soccer was probably the first to adopt a shootout solution and, although controversial, everyone agrees that it’s very exciting.  The National Hockey League has tried a variety of approaches but today uses a combination of short overtime period followed, if necessary, by a shootout.  A few years ago, the Canadian Football League introduced a system similar to the shootout; each team, in succession, scrimmages the ball from the opponent’s 35 yard line until one outscores the other. In curling, the process has always been pretty simple – you play an extra end.  But even in small bonspiels, this has caused problems because of the 15 to 20 minutes it adds to a game. At major championships, the time needed to play an extra end during round-robin or preliminary play causes all sorts of difficulties.  First, in many of today’s national and international showdowns, teams have to play back to back, often with as little as 90 minutes between games.  Throw in an extra end and all of a sudden one of the two teams in an afternoon or evening draw has been put at a disadvantage. Then there’s the issue of television.  Broadcasters need to know the maximum time a game will air to avoid conflicting with subsequent programming for which advertising has been bought.  For a final, it’s possible to build in an extra 30 minutes for the telecast in case of an extra end, but during a round robin, it can cause the network major problems. Surprisingly, an extra end can also have an impact on the print media.  The final results of a game could miss the next day’s newspaper if the match goes beyond the paper’s deadline. Then there’s the pressure that an extra end can put on a crew of ice technicians, not to mention building concessions, cleaners and the booking of entertainment at a Brier Patch. Many of you may be asking, so what’s the point?  Extra ends are a necessary evil and there is no other choice except to play them.  Well, this may be the case in playoff games but it isn’t in round robin contests. I know what you’re thinking:  Award the teams two points for a win and one for a tie and total up the points at the end of the round robin.  You’re partly right, but it could cause two teams to play a final end cautiously and settle for one point rather than playing offensively and probably walking away with nothing. My former colleague Neil Houston came up with the bright idea of giving teams three points for a win and one for a tie, just like they do in soccer.  Brilliant.  Now, wouldn’t that make life interesting for the players, fans and media and create some interesting final ends during the round robin? Imagine going into the final draw of a round robin, down to the final ends of four games, with two of them shaping up for last-end ties and knowing that a win would vault a couple of teams into the playoffs while a tie would eliminate them?  Could it get any more exciting than that? Stay tuned.  I’m sure this topic is going to be discussed a lot more during the next few years.  Who knows?  By the time curling hits the next quadrennial for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, maybe round-robin extra ends will be like curling without the four-rock rule – a thing of the past.