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It took Southern Illinois University and Southeast Missouri State 3 hours, 25 minutes to play their football game Thursday night, a 44-26 SEMO victory.

The NCAA has a problem. Given the circumstances, that is entirely too long.

Neither team threw the ball an inordinate amount of times. If anything, this was a run-dominated game. The Salukis ran 68 offensive plays — 40 runs, 28 passes. SEMO snapped the ball 74 times, 49 rushes, 25 passes.

Yet, particularly in the second half, the game dragged on interminably.

As part of my approach of covering a game, I log every play in a notebook. It helps keep my focused, notice trends and take miscellaneous notes. But, by the end of the third quarter, that wasn’t enough. My eyes were glassed over.

There are reasons Hollywood keeps its movies under three hours — that is about the extent of the human attention span.

But, attending a football game entails more than the 3.5-hour game. Most Saluki fans drove at least an hour to get to Cape Girardeau. The Saluki tailgate contingent was fairly large Thursday, so let’s assume most fans arrived 90 minutes before kickoff.

By the time halftime rolls around, most fans already have invested four hours in the event.

It’s no wonder the second half of most college football games are played in front of thousands of empty seats. I thought that was just an SIU phenomenon until the Salukis played at Ole Miss last year.

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Despite the fact that the halftime score was 38-35, about a third of the crowd failed to return for the second half.

Part of the problem is the game itself.

The focus of the game is skewed entirely to offense. It’s not unusual for college football games to be more high-scoring than basketball. The average NCAA team scored 30 points per game last year. Coaches try to squeeze more and more plays into games, there were 142 snaps Thursday, meaning the clock is stopped more often.

With teams passing 40 to 50 times a game and most passes aimed at the sidelines, stoppages are entirely too frequent.

Unfortunately, the NCAA can’t legislate teams run the ball up the middle of the field. The game will eventually evolve — remember when the wishbone was all the rage? But, it will take time.

Television is the other major culprit. That’s not an opinion, it’s a matter of math.

Each scoring play is normally followed by a commercial break of up to 2.5 minutes. There were 11 scoring plays in the SIU vs. SEMO game. The commercial breaks accounted for 27.5 minutes. Eliminate those breaks and the duration of the game is under three hours.

But, that’s not going to happen. Conversely, television could address it by showing some commercials on split screens. That is something that is occurring more regularly on golf telecasts.

The way the game is played today, commercial breaks are frequently longer than possessions. In Thursday’s game the teams combined for 15 possessions of three minutes or less.

The incessant commercial breaks aren’t as noticeable to fans at home — they’re grabbing a drink or a sandwich or taking a bathroom break. For the fans in the stands, it’s nothing short of boring.

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LES WINKELER is the sports editor for the Southern Illinoisan Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

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