The NCAA Overtime
The longest game in a National College Athletic Association football game was four hours and fifty-six minutes. It was a 2003 game between Arkansas and Kentucky that went to a seventh overtime.
Overtime at the collegiate level is different from the NFL. It is not sudden death and there is no kickoff. Teams flip a coin to decide who gets the ball starting on the opponents' 25 yard line. There is no game clock because each overtime period ends when each team has had one possession, but there is a play clock. Possessions flip after each OT. If you got the ball to start the first overtime you would get the ball to end the second overtime and so on. After the third overtime period, teams can no longer kick the extra point and must attempt the two point conversion.
There is a safety issue with how this game is currently played. The current rules raise the question of if they efficiently decide a clear winner or if they turn the game into a battle of exhaustion too unsafe for players. Despite the lack of a kick off in NCAA OT, the field shrinks in OT to 25 yards from the end zone. The rules allow amateurs to make themselves vulnerable to head trauma for an extended period of time.
On Nov. 4, 2018 the Texas A&M Aggies hosted the Louisiana State University (LSU) Tigers for College Footballs’ rivalry weekend. At the start of the fourth quarter, the Aggies led LSU with a score of 24-17 until the Tigers scored on a 58 yard fumble return with 10:08 remaining. The score tied the game, allowing LSU to go up 31-24 on a 14 yard pass to Foster Moreau from Joe Burrow. That was until Kellen Mond led Texas A&M down the field on a 12 play 78 yard drive that resulted in a 19 yard TD catch by Quartney Davis to tie the game at 31. This would lead to a seven OT football game on national television; the game lasted four hours and fifty-three minutes resulting in a 74-72 Texas A&M upset win over LSU.
Four hours and fifty three minutes of unpaid amateurs playing an inherently violent game on national television. For once, this is not a debate over whether or not NCAA athletes should be paid. It’s a question of if the current rules safely decide a clear winner or if the current rules turn the game into a battle of exhaustion and unsafe for players. Despite the lack of a kick off in NCAA OT, the field shrinks in OT to 25 yards from the end zone. The rules make amateurs vulnerable to head trauma for an extended period of time.
The overtime rules in the NCAA do provide equal opportunity for each team to score but also makes scoring easier. With a 25 yard field, it turns into a coaching battle. When that coaching battle evens out, the game will continue until one team slips up. Overtime in the NFL is a sudden death. That means that if there is a defensive score on the first drive or the offense scores a touchdown on the first possession the game is over. The coin toss can decide the eventual winner. This makes it practically impossible for a game in the National Football League to last as long as an NCAA game can.
The NCAA does not have a system in place to push the game to a tipping point; so long as you continue to score the game will go on. If LSU made the two-point conversion to tie the game at 74, there is no rule in place that would end the game before the players have to be in class on Monday. They would continue scoring touchdowns and making two point conversions until one of them faltered. The LSU vs Texas A&M game isn’t even the longest game ever played, however it is the highest scoring game in college football history.
Consider the violence that occurs in one football game. In 2017 Dr. Jesse Mez, Dr. Daniel Daneshvar and Patrick Kiernan conducted a study called, “Clinicopathological Evaluation of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Players of American Football” published by JAMA Network. The study revealed that of 202 donated brains of deceased ex-football players, 177 of them were diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or C.T.E.. Of the 111 former NFL players, 110 of them had C.T.E.. Of those that played only to the collegiate level, there were 53 donated brains and 48 of them were diagnosed with C.T.E.. Researchers found C.T.E. in 87 percent of all the donated brains. Convenience sample or not, numbers don’t lie.
These players are unpaid student athletes. Players cannot handle the physical, mental and emotional strain that the life of a full-time student playing Division I sports carries if there are five hour games. It is not fair to the players that they play the game, go to school, then the TV stations, football programs and bettors profit. The NCAA has two options in front of them. They either change the overtime rule to better accommodate players, or they continue to allow this game to hurt the athletes that play it.