Marc Daniels: Real Spring College Football Games...Sounds Good, Bad Idea

Liberty v Arkansas

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The story became a hot topic because it's been a hot topic for years. It's also a hot topic in April because college football fans and the college football media are bored. Sure, reports on spring practice are interesting if you have a first year coach or a quarterback battle, but otherwise most practices are closed and coaches say very little other than how good things are going.

But Auburn's new coach, Hugh Freeze, went there when he suggested a spring scrimmage or game against another opponent. He's suggested this idea for years and talked about calling UAB's first year coach, Trent Dilfer, who was all for it. Then others said even Alabama could play Troy and wouldn't everybody be happy. This was those "little ol' G5 schools can play against their big bad brothers from the P5". Well, that's just swell.

Freeze went on to make it even better, suggesting schools could pick their own charity so all the money from ticket sales could go there.

Then former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops joined Freeze in thinking it was a great idea.

It took some in the college football media world seconds to jump aboard and suggest matchups for state biggies against the little guys: Clemson vs Furman and South Carolina hosting the Citadel. Texas hosting Texas State and Texas A&M playing Lamar...we can do this all day. Heck, TV would love it, wouldn't they? Fans would love, would they?

Look, spring football games have become a tough sell. The hype always outdoes the actual game. Yes, there are plenty of SEC stadiums that draw 30,000-70,000 for spring games and that's great. But there is not a real game being played. It's a chance to see some of the returning faces do their stuff for a few series and new faces give you a glimpse of what they may add in the fall. But it's not a real game. Quarterbacks don't get hit and ones and twos and threes on the depth chart get mixed up quickly and by the time the event ends no one remembers the final score and most stats are rarely accurate. A lot of coaches have quietly, and even publicly, acknowledged the spring game has become a showcase for fans and that they would prefer a regular practice to get more work done.

Heck, I was all for a spring season when the thought of losing the 2020 season to COVID looked like a possibility. I even thought it was not a bad idea when the suggestion of playing real spring games to make up for lost revenue from COVID. But this suggestion by Freeze and a few in the college football media is a bad idea.

Why is it a bad idea? For starters, the starters are a reason it's a bad idea. You can hype a "real game against a real opponent" all you want, but how many starters are coaches going to put out there in April and risk injury? Anyone think Jordan Travis would take a snap in a "spring game" against FIU? It takes one season ending injury to a star player in April for a coach to think it's a bad idea to have these games.

I know what you are about to say..."players get injured during drills in April so why would it matter if it was in a practice or a game against another opponent?" Because it is different. Coaches can control drills in their own practice. And yes, you can never guarantee an injury-free workout, but you do reduce some situations versus a game where another team is not taking it easy on you.

You know who else is likely skipping a spring football game against another opponent? Portal players. That would be players about to enter the portal after spring practice. There is a 15-day window where players can enter the portal and many do after realizing they won't be a starter in the fall or other schools come after them because they concluded after their spring practice they need another linebacker, running back or wide receiver. Those players are more focused on staying healthy and finding dollars somewhere else, not playing in a real game.

Maybe you think you don't need Jordan Travis or other starters to play in these games because you want to see the second and third teamers get some action, no you don't. It sounds good, but most of the time you don't know second and third stringers and only care when one of them becomes a first teamer.

But what about Hugh Freeze idea of a charity getting the revenue from ticket sales, what's wrong with that? Nothing is wrong with raising money for worthy causes, but major schools don't like giving millions or even hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of dollars away. If a school sells 60,000 tickets to a spring game, trust me, they are keeping some if not most of it. Are you aware of any schools that donate money from their current spring game to charity? I didn't think so.

But TV would love this. Maybe. The SEC Network and Big Ten Network already make a big deal about spring games. Heck, they tell schools when to play them so they can fill time slots. I am not arguing that there would be some interest because college football fans love the sport and there is a reason small bowl games still outdraw most regular season NBA and MLB games on network TV. And I also don't think it would be a big deal if a P5 lost to a G5 if you had these games, because there is a built-in excuse of "well, we just wanted to give as many guys as possible a chance to play. We didn't really care about winning the game, just getting some reps was our focus."

There is the thought that the NFL and high school football play these types of games already. That is true. The NFL also reduced the number of pre-season games because fans screamed they didn't want as many and players wanted less because of an expanded regular season. As for high school spring jamborees? They are fine but also unnecessary. It's not the difference of winning a state title come the fall and these days a team could lose half its starters from a jamboree to its own transfer problems plaguing high school football.

I am not saying the idea of playing an opponent in the spring will never happen. Everything eventually happens in college football, especially if someone finds a way to make money off of it. If not already, someone will suggest how a spring game could be an NIL opportunity for players. It may take two, five or 15 years, but we will eventually see this happen. Just like I think the college football playoff will become a 16 or 20 team event and I think the regular season will see a 13th game. Why? MONEY...

Hugh Freeze may still be at Auburn when all this happens. By then, if he's still there, he will be making $12-15M a year and ask his players to play in a spring game for free. Or if his players, in say 2027, are under contracts paid by the school- let's see if those players collectively bargain AGAINST such a spring game...

Final Note: In May of 1982 the biggest headline in college football? Bear Bryant signed a record contract at Alabama that paid him $450,000 a year. 

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