By Josh Parcell
Spring games are a dying breed in college football. Major programs are slowly starting to do away with the annual tradition to split up the roster and welcome in the fans for an early look at the upcoming season.
There are a handful of reasons why this is happening. Last year Florida was forced to do away with its Orange & Blue game after injuries to the offensive line left them unable to even field a team.
Pittsburgh head coach Paul Chryst cancelled the Panthers’ spring game before they even took the field to practice back in late February in an effort to “maximize limited practice time.”
Texas A&M won’t play a spring game this year because Kyle Field is undergoing major renovations that will include an absolutely massive video board.
These all seem like legitimate reasons to nix the spring game and simply add an extra practice to reach the maximum spring limit of 15.
On the flip side, Urban Meyer has no plans to stop playing spring games anytime soon.
“I’m going to do it every year because I just think it’s priceless for a player to get a rep in front of 50, 60, 70,000 fans,” Meyer said. “If I was at a school where you get 400 people, I might stop because what are you really getting?” Meyer told BCSN TV.
This is genius. Kingsbury is just 34 years old, a mere nine years removed from holding an active spot on an NFL roster. One drive isn’t going to kill him. After all, he set 17 NCAA records as a quarterback for the Red Raiders in the early 2000’s.
Kingsbury and Meyer get it. Spring games are about much more than simply getting extra reps for your younger players. While there’s value in developing those prospects as much as possible in a controlled environment like a normal practice, spring games are an event. It’s an open house for the program – most importantly, it’s the best recruiting tool a program has during the off-season.
With Kingsbury’s innovative idea in mind, I have a few other suggestions for how coaches could spruce up the spring and make the games an even bigger draw for fans and recruits while not sacrificing much quality practice time if any.
Don’t think Kevin Sumlin isn’t noticing what Kingsbury is up to. How can you upstage a coach making a cameo in the spring game? By bringing in a celebrity to make a cameo in the spring game. It’s not crazy to think Sumlin could ask Drake to suit up for a series or two for the Aggies in 2015. If Steve Sarkisian wants Snoop Dogg to take a few snaps at wide receiver this spring, there’s no way Snoop says no, right?
This would hardly disrupt the script for the game in any way. Right after halftime, just give the starters and backups one series apiece to play with the star of choice and get on with the scrimmage, while the celebrity shakes hands with players and recruits the rest of the afternoon.
If I was a prospect, I would commit on the spot.
I’m taking a page out of the Pro Bowl’s book for this one, but it makes much more sense for a college program than a bunch of multi-millionaires who make every effort NOT to play in a game that has absolutely nothing in it for them.
Every major program welcomes back former players to the spring games already. Why not let a handful of them take sides and treat it like a fantasy draft? Some coaching staffs already draft the teams before the game, but Team Tyrann has a better ring to it than Team Chavis.
The coaches could have oversight during the selection process to make sure things don’t get out of hand, but there’s virtually no downside to this idea. All it does is increase the interaction between the current players and the idols who sold them on the school in the first place. I can see the alums getting REALLY into it, too.
EXHIBITION vs FCS TEAM
This is not a new idea and it’s also a more complicated one than it seems. FBS teams usually welcome in an FCS opponent early in the season to help tune up for the rigors of the conference schedule. Cupcake U collects a paycheck, usually takes a beating and heads back home. There’s minimal upside for the big-time schools. If you don’t believe me, just ask Florida.
There are several reasons why these games could start happening less frequently.
For one, conference expansion among the major leagues has added another inter-conference game for a lot of teams. The SEC is still toying with the idea of going to a nine-game conference schedule by 2016 – an option that is only more likely with the addition of the SEC Network. This leaves only three slots left for non-conference games.
The other reason is the introduction of the College Football Playoff. We’ve already seen teams begin to bolster their future non-conference schedules since this was announced. Just last week, LSU added home-and-home series with UCLA and Arizona State from 2021-2024. Strength of schedule is going to be a more important factor than ever in earning a shot at the national championship.
The third and fourth spots in the CFB Playoff will often be up for grabs between multiple one and two-loss teams. Last season, Baylor and Ohio State would have missed the four-team playoff despite having only one loss – almost explicitly because of a weaker schedule than Auburn, Alabama and Michigan State.
By moving these “paycheck games” to the spring, it essentially creates a preseason game for both teams and still allows the fans and recruits to experience a game day atmosphere in an otherwise meaningless environment.
These are just a handful of out-of-the-box ideas to help save spring football, but if you’ve paid any attention to college football in the past few years, there really is no such thing as an out-of-the-box idea anymore. Everything is fair game.
Let’s face it…if nothing else, we all just need an excuse to tailgate. Leave a comment with your idea for how to improve your school’s spring game.
Follow Josh on Twitter @JoshParcell