To defer in football is one of three coin toss options a team has to choose from. If a team defers, they withhold their decision until the start of the 2nd half where they will have their first choice from the coin toss options.
At the start of the second half, the team is given the normal coin toss options:
- Receive the ball
- Kick the ball
- Choose which direction to defend
If a team chooses to defer, they will almost always choose to receive in the second half. Otherwise, they would be at a big disadvantage as their opponent would receive the ball to start both halves.
Deferring the first half coin toss is a strategy that many teams employ. While there is no concrete statistical proof that deferring on a kickoff is beneficial many coaches still swear by it. They believe that it offers a psychological advantage as well as more possessions in the second half. The thought is that the more possessions a team has in the more important half (second) the better chance they have at winning.
In overtime teams are unable to defer as it is played as a sudden death format. There is no second half to save your pick for. Teams that choose to receive the ball win 55 percent of the time, so teams rarely elect to kick.
History of Choosing to Defer
Before 2008 teams only had two options in a kickoff, pick your side or who gets the ball. In 2008 the deferral was added as a choice. Instead of being made to select what you wanted in the first half automatically, a team could save their choice for the second half. At first, most teams would often choose to receive the ball. However, head coach Bill Bellicheck of the New England Patriots changed the way coaches thought about coin tosses by almost always choosing to defer. The Patriots had great success this way, often able to score late in the first half and at the beginning of the second half for a 2 for 1. Now around 80 percent of teams defer when winning the coin toss.