Florida vs UCF...In March? Spring Football Like Never Before


It's March 20, 2021 and the forecast calls for a perfect spring day- sunny skies and a light breeze. Across the south, a day like this is ideal for some yard work out back or maybe a hike down a trail you haven't been in years. Maybe a day like this is time for a long car ride to the lake with friends. But what if it became a Saturday like any other and I don't mean the Masters with Jim Nantz and a green jacket.

In a normal college football world, a third Saturday in March usually means a scrimmage during spring football. It's a two-hour showcase of rising stars and new faces battling for a spot on a depth chart. It's a time coaches, players and fans all have hope. But nothing is normal in college football these days.

This March will be different for many reasons. Because of Covid-19, most FCS programs punted on a fall season and have plans to play a season in the spring. The FCS playoffs will start April 24th and a title game will be played either May 15th or 16th. And while that may be exciting for any football fan, get set for something you've never seen before.

Sources tell me many FBS programs are looking at playing real football games in the spring. That's right, not just a glorified scrimmage but real games against an actual opponent in stadiums with fans(as many that are allowed) and likely on networks you are currently watching college football games.

Schools that are not playing 12 regular season games this fall, which is just about everyone, are looking into scheduling games in the spring. 

Florida will play 10 games this fall, assuming no currently scheduled game gets postponed. UCF? The Knights are playing nine games. FSU? The Noles are playing 11. Ohio State? The Buckeyes hope to play seven regular season games. As for the Pac 12 and its teams? Some may end up playing 4-5 games this fall.

It is not just an idea, but a plan schools are looking to move on and there is momentum for it. Everyone is looking for revenue streams and everyone is trying to make their media partners happy with content and fulfilling the obligation of games to keep media money is a priority for all.

For a school like UCF, an additional game or two in the spring means a chance to sell tickets and generate money you lost by not having a full stadium in the fall. 

If vaccines for the virus are distributed across the country in the next 4-5 months, could stadiums have 50% capacity? Let's all hope we, as a country, get to that. Not because of football but because it means we can save lives across the nation. 

TV networks may be intrigued by the idea of something so different that carrying an Ohio State game against anyone is more appealing than other programming options. Every conference has their own media deal and each knows how much they are getting in the current fall lineup. But could adding spring games keep the original payout of your media deal or get close to it?

Fans would love the idea of a real game as opposed to crumbs of information released during spring practice. Coaches may hate the idea. After all, spring means a quarter of your roster is gone and it's a time to plan for the fall grind but this is 2020. Remember, everyone gets a free year of eligibility and rosters will be well over 100 and everyone will be active in the free transfer world coming. What better way to get your new players up to speed in your system and get a look at them in your uniform?

Spring practice rules are not changing and teams will have a total of 15 chances to hit the field. But wouldn't your players be far more motivated to play a real game at the end of those spring practices and do it in a stadium with fans and throw in some TV coverage and you got yourself the most unique spring ever in college football.

Most teams are likely to try and schedule one game. Some may try and do a second game. Don't look for P5 vs P5 games because major brands will want a home game. That means you can look for P5 vs G5. The appeal for G5s is the money they would get to go on the road. Few, if any teams, would get on a plane to play, but seeing matchups like UCF vs FAU/FIU or even a spring War On I-4 against South Florida, Ohio State vs anyone from the MAC, USC vs Fresno State are more realistic games.

Today it's an idea that schools are trying to get into motion. Everyone is focused on getting through the fall season of 2020 and we all see the many challenges teams are facing. If the college football playoff gets pushed into late January, those teams may have no interest in playing a game or two in the spring, but money talks and there are plenty of schools who will not be in the playoffs who would not only be interested, but are already seeking opponents.

So, the spring for college sports is already filled with all the fall and winter sports who have delayed and college basketball remains committed to playing its tournament on time-although at one site. And while FCS teams prepare for their season, they may get some company on the calendar and you may turn on your television March 20th and have a choice of March Madness, Big Noon Kickoff and Pac 12 after dark...

Notes: As we discussed on Tuesday's radio show, Cincinnati vs UCF is a fascinating business story, The two teams play Saturday at UCF and each team has millions riding on the outcome. AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco won't say publicly he is rooting for Cincinnati, but he is. It's not because he dislikes UCF but because the Bearcats winning the game keeps two things alive for Mike Aresco. A win by Luke Fickell's team keeps them in control of their destiny to land a spot in a major bowl game. It also keeps them in the mix for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Having the first team to break down the Power 5 wall and get into the playoff is something Aresco would love. But it's always about the money and Cincinnati making a major bowl is worth about $4 million to the American. If they make the playoff it pays $6 million. If UCF beats Cincinnati, the Bearcats and Mike Aresco have no control on that New Year's Six spot because they would likely fall behind unbeaten Marshall and Coastal Carolina in the eyes of the playoff committee when they start ranking teams. The American has no big money bowl game for its champion if it's not in a major bowl game. For UCF, the game is potentially worth a few million as well. While UCF still can make the AAC title game, the two-loss Knights are looking for momentum towards 2021 in case they don't make that game. A win over 7th ranked Cincinnati and victory over rival South Florida and a win in a bowl game would put UCF at 8-2 and generate off-season excitement in your fanbase to buy season tickets for 2021, which includes a season opening game against Boise State. If a win over Cincinnati is worth 5,000 advanced season tickets in the months that follow, at $75 per ticket over seven home games, then that totals over $2.6 million. That makes Saturday's showdown a big game on the field worth millions to the winner...Magic draft 15th tonight. Giannis was the 15th pick in the draft. You know who else went 15th? Steve Nash. As did former Magic legends Mo Harkless, Reece Gaines and Steven Hunter...

Final thought: Kentucky has the most fast food restaurants per 10,000 people.

Photo Credit: Getty Images


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