I've seen 90,000 crazed fans in brilliant sunshine. I've seen 2,500 lonely souls in the rain. I've seen celebrity coaches and I've seen scoring systems so complicated that BCS computers would go cross-eyed.
Now that they're done for another year, I've seen enough of spring games.
|Spring games attract crowds, but their usefulness is hard to see. (US Presswire)|
And that was from the defending national champions.
Alabama thought so much of its spring game that its coaches were former quarterback Jay Barker and a radio talk-show host. Nick Saban was still in charge, basically telling an official to throw a flag on the third play of the game. Nick is always in charge. After the clock expired he decided to keep playing until a tie was broken.
That's not a game, that's an off Broadway production of an SEC Saturday.
Nebraska trumpeted its use of a television analyst as a side judge. At least everyone was respecting the game that day.
Never mind the injuries ... no wait. Always mind the injuries. Coaches have long grumbled about staging those off-Broadway productions for nothing more than serving tradition. USC's Lane Kiffin, in his second year as a college head coach, might be the newest to bitch. Kiffin sent defensive lineman Jurrell Casey to the locker room after he hit quarterback Matt Barkley in Saturday's game in the Coliseum. Barkley, who already had wrist surgery, injured his throwing hand after it hit Casey's helmet. Because Casey couldn't control himself -- quarterbacks are off limits -- who knows, USC could be playing with a backup quarterback in the fall. Hey, but at least everyone had a good time at the spring game, right?
Oh, the "games" are good for a tailgate and a starter tan if you're not in, say, Minnesota, but other than that give me spring practice over spring games anytime. At least then, no one is pretending. Chatting up coaches and players in a relaxed offseason environment? I'm down. Always. It's why we college football writers make our spring "tours" to various campuses. In fact, I got to know Jimbo Fisher a bit last month sitting in a conference room at a Florida resort near the Gulf of Mexico. It was, with little embellishment, like talking to Elvis before he went onstage.
Jimbo had just entered the building, ready to take the podium for a speaking engagement. Seminole Nation was drooling to meet the new guy. The new coach couldn't wait to impress Seminole Nation. Viva Panama City!
Anyway, that's why I'm done with the games. It's hard to tell when the exact moment hit me. Maybe it was sitting through too many of the things with whipping wind and biting cold. Maybe it was too many stories about slugs who would never see the field but run for 150 yards in the spring game.
I threw up in my mouth a little when networks began televising them.
The real epiphany might have been a couple of years ago. Something called the "Gridiron Bash" was being proposed on 16 campuses around the country the night prior to spring games. MSL Sports and Entertainment out of New York had the brilliant idea to make the games a weekend festival. ZZ Top was going to play at Texas A&M, Alan Jackson at Alabama, the Goo Goo Dolls at Kansas State.
Then the NCAA told MSL that athlete participation in the festivities would be a violation. Basically, MSL couldn't sell tickets without Johnny Football making an appearance on stage. In the end, MSL couldn't sell tickets. End of Gridiron Bash. Last I heard, MSL was looking for partners so it could stay in business.
I don't really care about MSL and its spring circus at this point, but I do have an alternative. An answer to the meaninglessness, the unnecessary injuries, the quirky scoring: Scrimmages against other schools. It's not a new idea. It just makes too much sense right now.
Michigan State's Mark Dantonio has a great plan for the Big Ten. Scrimmage a conference team not on the regular-season schedule. Think of Florida scrimmaging Alabama in years when it doesn't play the Tide. Same thing for Oklahoma vs. Nebraska. Worried about injury? With opposing teams on the field, theoretically, injuries would be cut in half. Think of them as the college version of NFL exhibition games.
Except they would mean more. It doesn't have to be Florida-Alabama. Make it Florida-Louisiana-Monroe, I don't care. The point is, there would be actual competition. Guys trying to prove themselves against an opponent, instead of a teammate. Quarterbacks still off limits. No kick returns. Still, it would be the difference between watching a sparring match and a five-round bout on the undercard.
The best part for the folks who would have to sign off on them -- revenue. Although some schools these days charge for spring games, the majority don't. Alabama allowed those 90,000 folks into Bryant-Denny last month as a good-will gesture. Think the same 90,000 wouldn't show up if they were charged $5 a head, $10, $20? That's a potential $450,000-$1.8 million being left on the table. All you have to do is add Gators and stir.
And not one of those fans would utter a word in protest.
Here's a further idea stolen from the high school ranks. Rent out Cowboys Stadium in Dallas and stage a one-day spring "jamboree": TCU-SMU, North Texas-Troy, Oklahoma-Kansas State. The teams don't really matter. The concept does. Take the gate and split it or donate it to charity. The point is, there is revenue to split.
If you're worried about taking spring games off campus, don't be. Think Troy or SMU wouldn't be willing to play in an NFL stadium? Think Louisiana-Monroe wouldn't be glad to get some sort of guarantee check from Florida?
All of a sudden, televising those types of spring games makes a lot of sense. We might actually learn something other than why poker had been pre-empted on a Saturday afternoon in April.
The best part, the NCAA can't protest at all. More work for the players? It didn't exactly take student-athlete welfare into account when it added a 12th regular-season game a few years ago. Athletic departments needed more money so the indentured servants, er, players were told to go out and lay their bodies on the line for one more game.
Let's do it this way: Survey the players and see what they think. I'm guessing 90 percent-10 percent in favor.
What exactly would be the NCAA's protest for legit, competitive spring games? They would have all the ingredients every AD, president and NCAA suit loves. They would be on TV, they would make money and they could be expanded.
August preseason games anyone?