Two Games in One Day?

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.4, April 2006,

Initially, it didn’t take long for Northwestern College (Minn.) Athletic Director Matt Hill to handle a call from Macalester College looking for a game on Oct. 8 last fall. Hill declined the offer since his team already had a game scheduled against Trinity Bible College on that date. After further thought, however, Hill went to the college president and Head Coach Kirk Talley to discuss the possibility of playing two games in one day.

“We were already scheduled to play Trinity, who was averaging about 25 players on their roster for the past two or three years,” says Talley. “So it seemed that if we split our team up, two games in one day could maybe work. We decided to do it, not expecting it to be a big deal.”

But it did turn into a very big deal. Northwestern’s quest caught the attention of the country’s media outlets, enough so that the college put up a Web page with links to national newspaper and magazine stories about the doubleheader day. The team even had an columnist follow it around the locker room and the sideline. And Talley, his team, and the entire athletic department got a crash course in big-event media relations.

“It spread like wildfire,” Talley says. “It was kind of fun and exciting, yet it did get a little bit away from what we believe in here at Northwestern: just playing the best you can and learning about life as you go.

“But our athletic director and director of sports information did a great job of dealing with the whole thing,” he continues. “They did good work in shielding us from the media, but then making it easy for us when we needed to be involved. It was like they’d been putting together press conferences for years.”

Northwestern’s athletic staff wasn’t handling only media inquiries for interviews, but also questions about the school’s motive for taking on two opponents in one day: Were they trying to be the first? Were they trying to make Macalester and Trinity Bible look like lesser teams? Weren’t those other schools insulted?

The answers were no, no, and no. Hill had no idea that no other college team had played two games in one day until he called the NCAA to make sure the move wouldn’t violate any rules. And Hill called the Trinity coach to make sure he was okay with the decision to squeeze two games into one Saturday.

“We didn’t want to rub it in anyone’s face,” Talley says. “In fact, we tried to bend over backwards as far as helping Trinity out, but still, some people didn’t appreciate the fact that we did it. People will always have their own ideas about things.”

As soon as Talley and the athletic department made the decision to schedule both games for Oct. 8, he called a team meeting. “The players were excited about the idea and also a little concerned,” he says. “They had a lot of questions and didn’t want it to look like we were trying to be better than somebody else.”

Talley decided to split both the team and the coaching staff into two squads with a few swing players, but did not do so until the week of the doubleheader. “It’s already hard enough to get ready for one game, so we really tried not to think about that Saturday or do any prep for it until that week,” he says. “Working with the two groups was fairly easy the first day because we just watch film and do walk-throughs. But because we had swing players on both squads, it got a little confusing as the week went on. Some of the organizational aspects didn’t go as smoothly as we wanted, but we expected that to happen since nobody had done this before. We just tried to have fun with it.”

The first game began at noon. Northwestern ended up beating Trinity Bible 59-0 at home, then hanging around in the hallway outside of the locker room for a few hours to eat and nap before heading seven miles away for a 7 p.m. game with Macalester, who they defeated 47-14. Talley recalls that Saturday having a strange feeling, “kind of like a sleep over,” but says the best part of it was that every one of his 73 players was revved up and ready to play.

When asked if he’d do it again, however, Talley quickly responded, “No. This was definitely a once in a lifetime deal. It’s just too much.”

The doubleheader appeared to have no lingering effects. The Eagles won their next three games and finished the season with an 8-3 record. Northwestern also won the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference title and earned a berth in the National Christian College Athletic Association Victory Bowl.