"It seems like all of a sudden there has been a run on overtimes."
Since Alabama has endured two extra-period games so far, Shula's lament is understandable. Actually the SEC has gone through only five so far (Arkansas 34, Alabama 31, 3 OTs; Tennessee 23, South Carolina 20, 1 OT; Georgia Tech 24, Vanderbilt 21 1 OT; Tennessee 51, Alabama 43, 5 OTs, Arkansas 71, Kentucky 63, 7 OTs). That's one short of the SEC season record of six, set in both '98 and '00, but the year isn't finished.
Tide tailback Shaud Williams watched Arkansas and Kentucky exhaust each other from the comfortable vantage point of his apartment couch. And he still got tired.
"I made it through all seven overtimes, watching; I got through all seven of ‘em," Williams said, shaking his head. "I felt for every single one of the players on both teams. I was sitting there remembering..."
Saturday's game tied for the longest in NCAA history (Arkansas 58, Ole Miss 56 / 2001), but several other records were set, including Most Points Scored in Overtime Periods – 47; Most Points Scored in Overtime Periods by both Teams – 86; and Most Plays by both Teams in overtime – 202.
Williams continued, "Every time they're heading into another overtime, I'm thinking ‘That's what everybody was saying when we were playing.' You think, ‘Oh, not another one!' Every time they went into another overtime I was feeling for those guys."
Conditioning for college football is actually a fairly exact science. Athletes prepare for a normal, 60-minute contest. If they had wanted to run cross country, they would have joined the track team.
"I saw it go to six (periods), and I'm like ‘Wheeew, they've got to give those guys off tomorrow,'" Williams said. "I really feel for those guys."
"For the players it's hard," Shula agreed.
There was a time--not that long ago in college football--where games actually ended in ties. Two squads battled it out for four quarters, and for whatever reason the game ended up even. Granted, sometimes it was a matter of coaches playing not to lose (see Notre Dame/Michigan State in 1965). But other times the outcome represented a thrilling comeback (Alabama/Tennessee, 1993).
Miraculously, both players and coaches somehow managed to "endure" those days before overtime was thrust on the game to solve the "problem."
"Nobody should lose a game like Saturday's," Williams said. "Nobody should have to lose after fighting that hard and long. It's part of football now, so we have to put up with it. My hat goes off to both Kentucky and Arkansas. They played hard."
As a first-year head coach, Shula is understandably reluctant to be too outspoken on the subject. "It's hard for me (to judge), because we lost two of them," he said candidly. "If we had won both of those games, I may have said ‘Yeah, this is great.'"
No one argues that the present overtime scenarios are exciting. Two teams placed arbitrarily in scoring range time after time after time. Trading blows back and forth until one side makes a crucial mistake (or is just too exhausted to make the tackle) and the game is won.
It's exciting stuff. But is it college football?
One of the most telling arguments against the present system is that overtime essentially eliminates the "foot" from football. During an actual game, special teams (kickoffs, punts, punt returns, etc.) are an inextricably vital part of the contest.
But not during overtime.
Shula pointed out an irony. "It's funny, because all the questions being raised now are all questions that the opposite way were being asked at the (NFL) owners' meetings last year. ‘Don't we like the way college is doing their overtimes?' That was one of the big things that the NFL owners were going to talk about at the League meetings."
For years pro football has used overtime to decide playoff games. Referred to as "Sudden Death," at the end of regulation the captains flip a coin, winner takes the kickoff. First team to score wins. A modified version is used during the regular season, but the game extends for only one extra quarter. If no one has scored by that point, it ends in a tie.
"I think there is something to (the NFL's) sudden death," Shula said. "It definitely puts a premium on every play. And it includes the special teams.
"The thing that people talk about the NFL as being unfair is that if the first team gets the kickoff and scores, then only one team has the football. And it's not fair to the other team. But what percentage of the time does that actually happen?"
But one point that most pundits miss concerns the players. If a pro athlete exhausts himself on Sunday, there's no real problem. He's got the entire next week to recover, and NFL practice schedules are easily altered.
But what about student-athletes in college?
He may be a young man, but after Bama's marathon monstrosity versus Tennessee Williams didn't bounce back as fast as normal. "It took me all the way to Tuesday or Wednesday for my body to be completely recovered," Williams recalled. "It's tough. A game like that...
"What makes it so tough is you experience emotional highs and emotional lows. That's what drains you the most. You get so happy, because you're ahead. Then you'll get down when they go back and score. That drains you the most. It's not just being out there running around. The emotional part of it affects you the most."