Exciting embarrassment

As I lay in bed late Saturday night, struggling to keep my eyes open while watching the Arkansas-Kentucky seven-overtime epic unfold, a single word kept crossing my mind: <br><br>Why?

Why did a classic, tightly fought college football game turn into something better fit for Rupp Arena -- or ArenaFootball2?

Why did nearly five hours of hard work come down to making a stop inside the five-yard line?

At what point did college football shift from a contest that the best team won to a game that promotes depth and lack of fatigue?

And, most importantly, when will the NCAA powers-that-be wise up and realize that the current overtime system is hopelessly flawed?

The University of Alabama's football season has pivoted sharply towards the dark side of the ledger on two overtime games. And the Crimson Tide isn't alone in its suffering.

To ensure a truly accurate system of determining winners and losers, college football's overtime system must change, and change immediately. The game's integrity and the safety of its players rest in the balance.

Like most football fans, I enjoyed last Saturday night in front of the tube, watching the evening's pigskin offerings on the nearest television (in this case, while visiting distant relatives).

When the Miami-Virginia Tech showdown turned into a turkey (pun intended), I surfed one channel down the dial to Arkansas-Kentucky, showing concurrently on ESPN2.

When I tuned in, the score was knotted at 24, and the game was just heading to the first overtime. I settled back, expecting a quick and painless finish.

Tide Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines pointed out this week (quite accurately) that once a team plays a couple of overtime games, its defensive ranking based on cumulative stats essentially becomes meaningless.

Was I ever wrong.

As you now know, the game stretched into seven excruciating, heart-rending, never-ending overtimes.

The teams traded scores in the first, second and third overtimes, and it got even uglier in the fourth, fifth, and sixth.

Three times, either Arkansas or Kentucky had a chance to put the game away with a score or a stop. Three times, the tie stood strong, taunting the fans as well as the players' energy reserves.

By the time Arkansas finally stopped (a by-now not-so-hefty lefty) Jared Lorenzen inside its five at the end of the seventh overtime, ending the game, the contest had devolved into survival of the fittest.

The scoreboard looked more like arena football's Arkansas Twisters and Louisville Fire had invaded Commonwealth Stadium -- or certain basketball teams coached by Stan Heath and Tubby Smith.

Both teams were completely exhausted. With good reason. By game's end they'd played the equivalent of a game and a half, more than even the best-conditioned players can handle.

Neither team truly deserved to lose, but Kentucky came away with a season-tainting defeat. Which, again, begs the question: Why?

The current college overtime system -- which allows each team alternating possessions beginning at the opponent's 25-yard line, with the format continuing until an overtime ends with one team on top -- is terribly flawed.

It is too long, allows too much opportunity for injury, and simply isn't the fairest way to end a tightly fought 60-minute game.

Alabama would surely argue against the current system. If the Tide had hung on for victories over Arkansas and Tennessee, Mike Shula's crew would head into Saturday's game at Mississippi State 5-4, not 3-6. A split of the two aforementioned games would have left Alabama 4-5, and surely in a better frame of mind.

Of course, the Tide could have avoided heartbreak by taking care of business in regulation.

In case you've forgotten, Alabama led Arkansas 31-10 midway through the third quarter, and had Tennessee pinned back at its own 14, down a touchdown, with 1:52 to play and no timeouts -- after it failed to convert a first-and-two that would have likely run out the clock.

Those chances blown, Alabama took its chances with overtime and failed. Against Arkansas, Brian Bostick missed a potential game-winning field goal. Against Tennessee, a potential game-winning two-point conversion at the end of the third overtime was intercepted.

Which brings us back to the overtime system.

Professional football has had success with a fifth-quarter, sudden-death system; the first team to score wins. If no team has scored at the end of 15 minutes (in regular-season play) the game is declared a tie. But even that rarely happens.

BamaMag.com is pleased to feature regular columns from Greg Wallace, one of the most talented writers on the Bama beat.

An avid sports fan whose job "just happens" to give him a seat in the front-row, Wallace is entering his third year writing for the Birmingham Post-Herald. He is a 2000 graduate of the University of Iowa, where he was a journalism and history major.

You can contact Greg at: gwrite1178@aol.com, and read his work daily at PostHerald.com.

Last Sunday, the New York Giants and New York Jets battled to a 28-28 tie through regulation. Each team missed a field goal in overtime, but enough time remained for the Giants to kick a game-winning try with seven seconds left, claiming a 31-28 victory.

Some pundits have suggested a slight modification of the system, guaranteeing each team one possession in overtime before reverting to a sudden-death format.

This makes sense. It gives both teams an equal opportunity to score, but doesn't cheapen defensive efforts or the kicking game, two phases which have been severely weakened by college football's current system.

If the college football powers-that-be adopted the system, it could reduce player fatigue while keeping the game's integrity intact -- something that 71-63 and 58-56 scores aren't accomplishing.

That's something that'll help all of us sleep a little easier after the next overtime classic.


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