Sudden death (sport)

Sudden death (sport)

Sudden death (or a sudden death round) is a way of providing a for a contest or game (typically a sport) which would otherwise end in a tie. It provides a victor for the contest without a specific amount of time being required, usually by making the first team or participant scoring in the additional time of play the winner. Sudden death is often referred towho as sudden victory in the official jargon of sports utilizing it to avoid the generally negative context of "death". For similar reasons, in football (soccer), the concept is referred to as the golden goal, at least where it is used to refer to extra time. If a penalty shoot-out is necessary following extra time, and the scores are tied after five penalties each, the ensuing knockout is still known as sudden death.

North American professional sports using a sudden death method of settling a tied game include the National Football League, the National Hockey League and, in a modified sense, the PGA Tour (golf). Baseball uses a method of tie-breaking that is somewhat unique to it and incorporates elements of sudden death, but is not a sudden death sport in the strictest sense.

Ice hockey

Sudden death overtime has traditionally been used in playoff and championship games in hockey. It has been used in the National Hockey League throughout the league's history. The first NHL game with sudden death overtime was game four of the 1919 Stanley Cup Finals. Currently, the NHL, American Hockey League, and ECHL also use sudden-death system in their regular seasons, playing a five minute overtime period when the score is tied at the end of regulation time.

In 2000, the AHL changed overtime by having the teams reduced to four players each during the five-minute overtime, and any two-man advantage will be awarded by having the team with the two-man advantage being able to play five-on-three during the two-man advantage. The ECHL and NHL both changed to the four-on-four overtime format in 2001.

If neither team scores during this period the teams will go to a penalty-shot shootout consisting of three players in the NHL or five players in the minor leagues (AHL, ECHL, UHL, Central) to determine the winner. In the NHL, if no team comes out victorious in the shootout, 1 by 1 sudden death shootout continues. No player may shoot twice until everyone on the bench has taken a shot.

During championship playoffs, however, all games are played to a conclusion resulting in a victory for one team and a loss for the other. These are "true" sudden death games, which have gone on into as many as six additional full 20-minute periods with five players, instead of the five-minute period with four players.

A penalty shot shootout is used in international hockey for knockout rounds if neither team scores after one 20-minute period of sudden death. (There is no overtime in round-robin games.)

American football

The National Football League uses a modified sudden-death system in their regular season. Prior to 1974, an NFL regular-season game which was a tie at the end of regulation time ended as a tie. Sudden-death overtime was used only in playoff games, with the 1958 NFL championship ending in overtime.

In 1974, however, the NFL adopted a 15-minute sudden death double overtime period. The game ends and is recorded as a tie if neither team scores in double overtime. This rarely happens, since as soon as a team gets near the end zone, they will almost certainly attempt to kick a field goal. While most overtime games are won by field goals, it is also possible to win by scoring a touchdown. This most frequently happens on a play that begins far enough away from the end zone to make a field goal difficult, but it can also result from a team exercising solid ball control and simply never getting to a fourth down situation. A far more rare occurrence is for an overtime game to be won by a safety; indeed, this has only happened twice. In recent years, game-winning touchdowns or field goals were referred to by sportscasters as "walk-off"s, meaning both teams walk off the field when one of the teams score in OT thus ending the game. (If the winning score in sudden death is a touchdown, no extra point is attempted.)

During championship playoffs, however, all games are played to a conclusion resulting in a victory for one team and a loss for the other. These are "true" sudden death games, which have gone on into a third additional period. The practice has been widely criticized in the case of the NFL, as games often are decided when the team receiving the ball at the start of the sudden death overtime scores during that initial possession (often with a field goal) and the opponent loses without having ever had possession of the ball in overtime. Largely in answer to this criticism, the tiebreaking system adopted in college and Canadian football involves baseball-style "innings" in which each team alternates possessions until one outscores the other during a corresponding "inning" rather than the sudden death system, and where a team must attempt a two-point conversion starting with the third overtime "inning".

In January 2004, a Carolina Panthers at St. Louis Rams playoff game ended on the first play of the second overtime, on a long touchdown pass, the most recent second overtime in an NFL game.

The now-defunct United States Football League had a triple-overtime game in 1984, between the Los Angeles Express and Michigan Panthers, which ended with a walk-off touchdown 3:33 into the third overtime. It is to date the longest professional football game ever played in the United States.

Arena football

The Arena Football League uses a modified version of sudden death, in which each team is allowed one overtime possession and the team which has scored the most points at that juncture being declared the winner, with sudden death going into effect if the score is still tied at this point. Previous to the Dallas Desperados and the Nashville Kats ended in a 41-41 tie on April 8, 2005, until the 2006 season regular season games ended as time expires after one additional fifteen-minute quarter. Now, a game will continue until either team had scored.

The same system was used in the NFL Europa League.


Traditionally, professional golf tournaments ending in a tie were played off the next day with an eighteen-hole match. Modern considerations such as television coverage and the tight travel schedule of most leading golfers have led to this practice being almost entirely abandoned, and in all but the most important tournaments, the champion is determined by sudden death. All players tied after the completion of regulation play are taken to a predetermined hole, and then play it and others in order as needed. If more than two players are tied, each player who scores higher on a hole than the other competitors is immediately eliminated, and those still tied continue play until one remaining player has a lower score for a hole than any of the others remaining, and that player is declared the winner.

Of the four men's major championships, only The Masters uses a sudden-death playoff format. The U.S. Open still uses an 18-hole playoff at stroke play on the day after the main tournament, with sudden death if two (or more) contestants remain tied after 18 holes. The Open Championship uses a four-hole total-stroke playoff, while the PGA Championship uses a three-hole total-stroke playoff. In both cases, sudden death is used if a tie exists at the end of the scheduled playoff.


Baseball is not truly a sudden death sport, but has important elements of the practice. Traditionally a baseball game cannot end until both teams have had an equal number of turns at bat, or the home team leads in the middle of the ninth inning. This means that if a baseball game is tied headed into the home half of the ninth or any subsequent extra inning, the game will end on the next scored run, courtesy of a walk-off base hit, base on balls, error, sacrifice fly, sacrifice hit, passed ball, wild pitch, balk, or interference call. This is the why the home team batting last is an advantage. The same can be said for games in which the visitors are leading headed into the last of the ninth/extra inning. In that case, if the home team (again by any of the aforementioned walk-off varieties) exceeds the visitor's run total, the game ends. A prime example of this is the walk-off home run (see below for some famous walk-off home runs). No matter what happens in the top of the ninth/extra inning, the home team will always have a turn at bat to attempt to tie or win the game. If the bottom of the ninth/extra inning ends with the home team still behind, the visitors win.

Famous walk-off home runs

Solo home runs except where noted

Football (soccer)

Sudden death has a controversial history in soccer, in which ties in important matches were traditionally resolved by replaying the entire match, which in the era of television and tight travel schedules is obviously impracticable, but esteemed by the sport's purists as the only equitable way to settle a tied match. Indeed, replays are still used in some major competitions (like the FA Cup).

For the most part, if the score is tied after the full 90 minutes, a draw results; however, if one team must be eliminated, some form of tie-breaking must occur. Originally, two 15-minute halves of extra time were held and if the teams remained equal at the end of the halves, kicks from the penalty mark were held, which is generally held in lower regard by purists and traditionalists than even sudden death. To try to decrease the chances of requiring kicks from the penalty mark, the IFAB, the world law making body of the sport, experimented with new rules.

The golden goal rule transformed the overtime periods into sudden death until the periods were over, where shootouts would occur. As this became unpopular, the silver goal rule was instituted, causing the game to end if the scores were not equal after the first 15 minute period as well as the second. The silver goal has also fallen into disrepute so Euro 2004 was the last event to use it; after which the original tie-breaking methods were restored.

The main criticism of sudden death is the quickness of ending the game, and the pressure on coaches and players. To the coaches, it does not seem appropriate once the goal is scored, the game is over and the opponent cannot attempt to answer the goal within the remaining time, creating a game where extra pressure is placed as to not create any mistakes.

Sudden death would have made many legendary matches of the past impossible. Many historical matches have been settled in flamboyant extra-time play, with multiple goals scored by each team, such as the unforgettable "Game of the Century" between Italy and West Germany in Mexico 1970, with Italy winning 4–3 after extra time. Following a 1–1 draw in regular time, the remaining five out of seven scores happened in the extra time. If sudden death had been in effect, the game would have ended on Gerd Müller's goal at 95', giving West Germany the victory instead of Italy.

In NCAA collegiate play in the United States, however, sudden death, adopted in 1999 for all championship play in addition to regular season play, remains. In 2005, the Division II Women's Championship game ended in sudden death as a goal was scored three minutes into the overtime to end the championship match.

Sudden death is also prevalent in youth play, for the safety of players. [] []

If the teams are still tied after the initial allocated number in a penalty shootout, the game goes to sudden-death penalties, where each team takes a further one penalty each, repeated until only one team scores, resulting in the winning of the game.

Rugby league

:"See List of National Rugby League golden point games"Drawn National Rugby League and State of Origin games are subject to sudden death extra time after 80 minutes of play, called the golden point. Golden point consists of two five-minute halves, with the teams swapping ends at the end of the first half.

Any score (try, penalty goal, or field goal) in golden point wins the game for the scoring team - no conversion is attempted if a try is the winning score.

In the NRL, the victor in golden point receives two competition points, the loser none. In the event that no further scoring occurs, the game is drawn, and each team receives one point each.


The use of sudden death tiebreakers has even influenced sports such as tennis which have not strictly speaking adopted them. The requirement that a tennis set be won by a minimum margin of two games sometimes resulted in five-set matches lasting six hours or longer, which is an anathema for television. In order to shorten matches somewhat, sets tied at six games each can now be broken by a tiebreaker which is most often the first player to score seven points in the tiebreaker, but these must be won by at least two points and thus can become quite lengthy in their own right.

Tiebreakers are not used in major tournaments in the third or fifth set, respectively, with the exception of the US Open.


An individual fencing bout lasts for five touches in a poule match, or 15 touches in a direct elimination (DE) match. In épée and foil, matches are also timed (three minutes for a poule match, and three periods of three minutes for a DE). If neither fencer has reached five or 15 points within the time limit, the leading fencer is deemed the winner. However, if the fencers are tied after the allotted time, one minute of extra time is added.

Before resuming the bout, one fencer is randomly awarded "priority". The first fencer to score a valid hit within extra time wins the match; if no valid hits are scored within the time, that fencer with priority is declared the victor.

In the normal course of a match, there is a de facto sudden death situation if both fencers are tied at four (or 14) touches each. The final hit is called "la belle". The fencers may salute each other before playing for the final point.

Computer gaming

Sudden death also occurs in computer gaming when both teams have the same score and a method of breaking a tie is needed. For example, in a Capture the Flag area for "Quake III Arena", when neither team has gotten a score, or if no team leads, a sudden death match will decide who will be the victor. All the teams have to do is get the flag and deliver it to the base one time only in order to win automatically. In other games, players have some handicap in order to end the game faster; for example, in a Super Smash Bros. sudden death round, players fight beginning at 300% damage, which usually causes the game to end almost immediately after a blow is dealt.

Board games

In board games such as chess where there is a time limit, "sudden death" refers to a requirement that "all" the remaining moves, rather than a fixed number of moves, be played within the remaining time allotted. This ensures an upper limit for how long games can last. Some games are played with an immediate sudden death time control, others have one or more regular time controls before the sudden death control.


Sudden death in wrestling is most commonly seen in Real Canadian Wrestling tournament matches, in which a victor must be decided. This happens in the case of a double knockout or double countout. In World Wrestling Entertainment, Sudden Death rules occurs mainly in an Iron Man match when there is a tie after the 1 hour time limit have expired.

Competition Judo

In the case of a tie in competition Judo, the match proceeds to Golden Score, another form of Sudden Death. Sudden Death in competition Judo is comprised of a 5 minute long match, during which the first competitor to achieve a score is awarded the match. Penalties in Judo award points to the other competitor, making fair-play of absolute importance. If no victor is decided in Golden Score, the match is decided based on a Referee's Decision. A Referee's Decision is a vote amongst the Referee and both Judges of the match.

Mixed martial arts

In mixed martial arts competitions that consist of an even number of rounds, a type of sudden death is sometimes used in the event that each competitor wins an equal number of rounds. This is not a true sudden death that ends on the first point scored, since MMA competitions do not generally score individual points. Rather, it is a final round of combat, the winner of which is declared the winner of the match. This particular rule, known as "Sudden Victory", has been commonly seen in previous seasons of the reality television show "The Ultimate Fighter" when the competition has consisted of two rounds.


Sudden death endings for sporting events have been roundly criticized ever since they were first proposed as both untraditional and unfair, but seem likely to become more rather than less widespread in the future given the exigencies of television coverage and stringent travel schedules for both individual athletes and sports teams.Fact|date=February 2007

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