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Is Pitt on to something by canceling spring game? Coaches weigh in

Paul Chryst and Pitt cite small crowds and weather issues as reasons against a spring game. (USATSI)
Paul Chryst and Pitt cite small crowds and weather issues as reasons against a spring game. (USATSI)

More CFB offseason: Pitt cancels Blue-Gold Game | Updates

After 3,642 fans watched a vanilla gameplan on a cold April night at a local high school field, Paul Chryst got real with his athletic director about Pitt's Blue-Gold spring game.

“He said, ‘I really wish we had another practice other than this,'” Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson recalled. “I told him we'd talk about it.”

Those talks led to this -- a Pitt spring practice without a spring game. Chryst said last week he'd prefer the extra practice time, as coaches get 15 full sessions according to NCAA rules.

Outside of Texas A&M's cancellation because of Kyle Field renovations, or Florida's watered-down practice because of injuries last year, bagging a spring game is rare.

But Pitt's plan is not so far-fetched. In fact, other coaches have thought about the same thing.

In an informal poll of nine FBS coaches Monday night, four say they could see other schools taking a similar path as Pitt in the future.

Let's just say Chryst isn't the only ACC head coach who's recently considered such a move because of the numbers game that is the overlap of post-season injuries/surgeries.

Spring ball might be a rite of passage for high-resource SEC schools, but if schools can lessen the injury hit while simulating pressure situations in practices and the weekend's not a recruiting necessity, cutting ties is feasible.

Utah State coach Matt Wells has no plans to cancel his spring game and thinks it's the best option for the program, but he understands where Chryst is coming from.

“Especially if [you're] low on OL/DL guys (because of injuries), no doubt,” Wells said. “Hard, though, publicly for your fans.”

Added Louisiana-Lafayette's Mark Hudspeth: “There's merit to both, particularly when you get to that 15th practice. You're at the point where you want to get out of the game without injuries.”

But Hudspeth still wants the spring game. The positives are hard to ignore.

  • Players must perform “in front of 30,000 vs. a rep in practice,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.
  • Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting. The game is still viewed as “invaluable” for it, Temple coach Matt Rhule said. Unofficial visits galore.
  • More spring games are televised, Ball State's Pete Lembo says, while “it's also a way to engage your fan base.”

Nobody has to tell Auburn about how the spring game can serve as an emotional touchstone for a breakout year. Auburn's A-Day hosted 83,401 fans in 2013, shattering the school's record by more than 20,000.

“There isn't any doubt” the game was a springboard for a national title run, AD Jay Jacobs said.

But to evaluate a spring game is to extract the business angle, Jacobs said. Most spring games aren't revenue-drivers.

Auburn fans paid $5 per ticket, but after paying for security, gameday staff, first aid and filtering proceeds to the lettermen club, the school breaks even.

If Auburn isn't making money from its game, the schools at the bottom of this list certainly aren't.

So having the game hinges on whether it's best for the team. That's when Pitt considered another factor.

Weather.

Pitt is a young team that “almost can't afford to waste (a practice),” Pederson said, and if weather doesn't cooperate on the day of the game, Pitt feared they'd lose that session altogether.

Now Chryst can use the indoor facility on that day if he chooses.

“I didn't really see any downside to it,” Pederson said. “I know some are intrigued to see players in spring, but for most part you're not seeing new players. If Paul thought it was better for our team, I was all for it.”

Teams are allowed three scrimmages each spring, and Duke used one of its three for last weekend's spring game.

One pro still outweighs the cons, Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe said: A spring game is still the best way to simulate game action during a long offseason.

“It's the closest we come to a preseason game,” Cutcliffe said. “We know going in how many snaps we want and can control it with a running clock. I would think most coaches choose to keep the game in some form.”


Jeremy Fowler is a national college football insider with CBSSports.com. Fowler joined CBS in 2012 after covering the Minnesota Vikings for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for two seasons and covering the Florida Gators for the Orlando Sentinel for two years. Fowler is also a contributor to the CBS Sports Network.
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