Five simple ways colleges can turn spring football practice on its head
Spring practice is boring and could use a major change or two
College football spring practices can be, and often are, agonizingly boring.
This isn’t an accident. There are reasons for spring’s mundane nature. In the big picture, a coach’s No. 1 priority is to exit spring healthy and without incident. The less flash, the better. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has become an exception to this pre-existing rule of thumb. He’s become the king of the offseason in part by trying things no one else is doing.
It is in that spirit that we’ve come up with five ways to turn spring practice on its head and make it more exciting. College football is, by nature, popular because of its unpredictability. Dull spring practices and scrimmages, if a school even conducts one, goes against this. So let’s liven things up a bit because few sports have more fun than college football.
There are conflicts to this idea, of course. Spring is a time to get healthy, among other things. There are days in which players don’t even wear pads as drills focus on conditioning as much as anything. (Two years ago, Division III even pushed to eliminate pads during spring altogether.) The actual roster of scholarship players is in transition, so depth is at a premium. Every practice and scrimmage is an opportunity for a player to shine ... but also an opportunity to get hurt.
Still, there are things college football should consider to make spring more intriguing. Football in general is becoming more of a 365-day sport from the bottom-up. This merely falls in line with that philosophy.
5. Open at least half of the practices to fans: I won’t annoy you with a plea for greater media access; in fact, I’ll do the opposite. Schools are allowed up to 15 practices in spring. Let’s push for greater fan access across the board. Yes, this means everyone. NFL teams do this in varying degrees for training camp for a couple of hours. Let’s have college football teams open up practices more for the public. If you’re an Alabama fan, for example, don’t you want to see five-star early enrollee Dylan Moses, who is absolutely crushing offseason workouts, in the flesh? Have autograph sessions (sorry, compliance) and picture time afterwards. Don’t limit those to the spring game (more on that later). Of course, many coaches will inevitably freak out about losing their veil of secrecy, but they’ll still be able to keep some of what they do behind closed doors. We’re talking about college football, not nuclear codes.
4. Tighten the practice window: This seems like a small maneuver, but it’s actually huge to set up everything else. Spring dates currently resemble one hell of a bell curve. While a majority of the games take place in early-to-mid April, there’s roughly a two-month gap between the first and final spring games of the year. This can be done to accommodate academic/break schedules, but usually it’s nothing more than the preference of the program. Duke, for example, enjoys a much earlier start to spring because it believes it’s beneficial for players and coaches. However, if we’re going to add more marquee events to the spring slate, schools need to be closer to the same page. February, May and -- for all intents and purposes -- March need to be off the table. Moving forward, spring games/scrimmages should be held in one of three windows in April. This will affect a smaller percentages of teams anyway.
3. Turn spring games into major scrimmage events: Of all the spring practice suggestions floating around, this is the one that has been featured most often. The concept is simple: Instead of the garden variety spring game, two bigger-name programs will scrimmage against one another. And unlike normal, regular-season scheduling, this doesn’t need to be done years in advance. Michigan traveling to Georgia? You’ll take that, right? Harbaugh will; it’s another opportunity to have a presence in SEC country. Put it on a major media rights carrier for the sport *wink wink* and treat it like a preseason game. The scrimmage doesn’t have to be a national trip, either. Texas and Texas A&M don’t play anymore, but maybe they’d consider a not-so-friendly game of backyard ball in April. Do fun halftime shows, have a skills competition (see below). Just make it more entertaining.
2. Treat those games like bowls: The “too many bowl games” crowd is a lame one. If two programs can afford to make a trip out of their spring game, let them do it. Who says these spring games have to be held on campus? If Clemson and Tennessee want to meet in Atlanta at the new Falcons stadium for a scrimmage, let them do it. Take the players to the world famous aquarium for a day trip. Pamper them with sweet, sweet swag bags from corporate sponsors. Every year, major college football resembles less and less the sport revisionist history would have us remember. Don’t fight it, embrace it.
1. Conduct a quarterback “All-Star Challenge:” Some schools already do this for their own spring game, but this is another chance to put spring stars on a bigger stage. Let’s say Baylor-turned-Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham lights it up for the Tigers during practice. Let’s put him against USC’s Sam Darnold in a throwing competition to delight fans. Pair this with the scrimmage at the end of spring ball -- you’d watch playoff darkhorse Auburn vs. trendy title pick USC, correct? -- and have some fun with it.
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