How to decide whether to watch overtime

May, 3, 2013
5/03/13
6:00
AM ET

The Stanley Cup playoffs are underway and, with it, the drama of playoff overtime hockey.

But extra time is not unique to the NHL. All four of our major sports can go long, and when those games occur we, the fans, must decide if we have the physical and mental stamina to stay awake and watching to the end.

When is it OK to turn off an overtime or extra-inning game? How long can these games last? What responsibilities do we have as fans during overtime games?

It’s time those questions are answered.

Baseball

[+] EnlargeBrandon Moss
Jason O. Watson/Getty ImagesIf you're a true fan, you saw Brandon Moss's 19th-inning walk-off HR. But we bet you weren't productive the next day.
The home team failed to take the lead in the bottom of the ninth, and now you’ve got extra innings facing you. Here’s what you need to know.

Potential time commitment: Five minutes to … who knows. Three hours? Forever?

As we all know, baseball has no time limit. Sometimes that is a positive characteristic. Other times, it’s a threat. When you’re hoping to get to bed at a reasonable time because you have to get up in the morning and attempt to be a productive member of society, it’s most definitely a threat. A terrifying threat.

Should I bail? No.

Stick it out at least for a little bit. You watched all or at least some of the first nine innings, right? You deserve to see an outcome.

When can I bail? Eleventh inning.

The eleventh inning is your one out. You’ve sat through one extra inning. You’ve given this game a reasonable chance to finish -- 10 full innings -- but it refused. This game is being ridiculous. Now it’s into a second extra inning. Come on. This game can’t be reasoned with. Who knows how long it could go at this point. If you don’t bail now, you may never get to bed. Going to bed is the responsible thing to do.

When am I doomed to watch the entire thing? If you make it to the 12th inning.

The 12th inning. You’re already into essentially a third of a new nine-inning game. You can’t quit now, right? The 11th inning was your out and now it’s gone. You’ve reached the point where watching the whole game becomes a personal challenge. “I can do it. I can stay up for the whole thing. No, I WILL do it. This is my chance to achieve one great thing in my life.”

You think of the many fans who shut this game off innings before to go to bed. You think of them with scorn. Ha! They’re not real fans. You are a real fan. You, and the few and the proud who are up with you watching this middle reliever attempt to pitch a fourth inning without losing the game or blowing out his elbow, not necessarily in that order. You all form a tight community on social media as you tweet your way through inning after inning. Any last lingering thoughts of going to bed are crushed by the thought that a position player could be forced to pitch at any moment. That would be awesome to see. It’s 1:17 a.m. on a Tuesday morning and baseball has never seemed so exciting! You almost don’t want the game to end. Right here, right now, laying on your couch at … my god, it’s past 2 a.m. now … you are free. You are ALIVE.

Chances I’m going to fall asleep: 50/50

Granted, there was all that stuff about being ALIVE and feeling free and being part of a special community of fans. And that’s all great. But it is after 2 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. You’re not a machine. Let’s be reasonable.

What will happen if you fall asleep: A position player will come in to pitch and strike someone out. And you will have missed it, dummy. You’re a failure at everything.

Do I have to watch any of this if I don’t have a rooting interest in either team? What? What kind of question is that? Of course not. Good god, man. Go to bed.

•  •  •
Hockey

[+] EnlargeBryan Bickell
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesYou can choose not to watch overtime hockey, but don't go calling yourself a sports fan.
The third period is over and it’s all knotted up. Overtime is next.

Potential time commitment: 1-15 minutes for regular-season games; 1 minute to infinity minutes for postseason games.

Regular-season overtime is a five-minute breeze (or less) followed by a shootout, if necessary, that rarely lasts more than a few minutes. Barring narcolepsy, there is zero reason you should go to sleep. You have 10 more minutes. You’re not that important.

Overtime in the Stanley Cup playoffs is a whole other animal. It is not so much extra hockey as it is a religion. It is the only hockey overtime that will be discussed from here on out in this section. Get lost, regular-season overtime hockey.

Should I bail? No.

Even sports fans who don’t follow the NHL are sucked in by Stanley Cup playoffs overtime. It’s non-stop, fast-paced, end-to-end action. At any moment the game can end. It happens in a split-second. It’s just that the specific game-ending split-second that does it sometimes arrives after 20,000 other split-seconds have passed and you’re weeping on your living room floor from exhaustion and stress.

When can I bail? Before the first overtime starts.

It’s OK. Playoff overtime hockey is awesome. But if you don’t think you can handle it, you can go to bed before the first overtime period starts. No questions asked. Just don’t pretend you’re a sports fan for the rest of your life. That’s the one caveat. Know that you ever saying that you like sports again or the rest of your life would be a huge lie. You would be a liar. Other than that … good night! Hope you feel rested in the morning.

When am I doomed to watch the entire thing? Never.

Doomed? No one is doomed to watch Stanley Cup overtime hockey. It is a PRIVILEGE.

Chances I’m going to fall asleep? 0 percent or almost 100 percent.

It’s pretty hard to fall asleep during an overtime period unless you just got off working a double-shift as a Mount Everest sherpa. The excitement on your TV screen trumps most any exhaustion.

But then comes the intermission between the first and second OT. As hard as it for the players to keep going overtime after overtime, their effort pales in comparison to your stamina in keeping your eyes open during an entire intermission. “I’ll just rest my eyes for a few seconds before the fourth OT starts.” NOOOOOOOOO! Next thing you know it’s 6 a.m., you’re still on the couch and an infomercial is on.

What will happen if you fall asleep: Only the greatest game-winning goal in Stanley Cup playoff history. I’d describe it, but words can do it no justice. You had to have seen it. Live.

Do I have to watch any of this if I don’t have a rooting interest in either team? No. You don’t. But you also can’t call yourself a sports fan ever again. Your call. No judgment here.

•  •  •
Basketball

[+] EnlargeNate Robinson
Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Getty ImagesDon't be fooled by overtime basketball. Five minutes can be more like 30 minutes -- or longer. So choose watching OT at your own peril.
Oh! So close! But that last-second shot rimmed out. Get ready for overtime.

Potential time commitment: Five to fifteen minutes of game time, but as much as an hour of real time.

But most overtime basketball games wrap up in one OT. No NBA game has ever gone longer than six overtimes. Just four years ago Syracuse and UConn played six OTs in the Big East tournament. But rarely do we get more than three overtimes.

With five minutes on the clock per overtime, you’re not looking at a huge time commitment. Granted, overtime basketball is no different than the end of regulation basketball. The game clock is deceiving. Constant timeouts, (totally not intentional!) fouls and free throws can magically turn five minutes into a half hour.

Should I bail? No.

It says five minutes right there on the clock. What’s five minutes? Surely it won’t last a half hour.

When can I bail? As soon as a team takes a six-point lead in OT with two minutes or less left on the clock.

The game is probably over. It’s just timeouts and foul shots from here on out. Pull the cord now and save yourself 15 minutes.

When am I doomed to watch the entire thing? If the first OT ends in a tie.

You have to see who wins now no matter how many five-minute/30-minute overtimes are on the way. Plus, starting players are beginning to foul out as the game draws on. This thing could be decided five scrubs-on-five scrubs! It’s the basketball version of a baseball position player trying to throw a curveball in the 18th inning. There are too many potential laughs to be had to go to bed now.

Chances I am going to fall asleep: 50/50.

Granted, it’s pretty late and I am tired, but did those five minutes feel like 30 minutes to anyone else?

What will happen if you fall asleep: One of the scrubs forced to play when someone else fouled out is going to get hilariously posterized on a thundering, game-winning, 360 dunk at the buzzer. Meanwhile, you’ll be snoring and drooling all over your couch, completely unaware. You’re hopeless, you know that?

Do I have to watch any of this if I don’t have a rooting interest in either team? Of course! It’s only five* minutes.

*Thirty-plus

•  •  •
Football

Pretty much no one understands the football overtime format. It may be sudden death, it may go on indefinitely until one team scores 100 points. No one knows. Least of all the players playing in the game. They’re just running around tackling each other until someone tells them to stop.

What we do know is that there is free extra football on television. And you are an American and you will watch it. No questions asked.

Whoa. Is all of this extra football counting toward my fantasy points? This is awesome!

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