By Juan Lozano | August 24, 2020
This past spring, people in and around the college football industrial complex were hopeful that the 2020 season would start as it had in years past, that is, without much complication. As spring turned into summer, there appeared to be a greater acknowledgment that the season may have some issues starting per usual. At that time, the idea of starting a season in spring would absolutely be the worst case scenario.
For the majority of football programs, a spring season is now the only option for college football during the 2020-21 academic year.
Many still view this as the worst case scenario or even an impossible one. For example, former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said there is “no chance” of having spring football”.
Meyer cites the impact that a spring season would have on a player’s body; “[y]ou can’t ask a player to play two seasons in a calendar year. When I first heard that, I said that. I don’t see that happening, when I hear that. The body, in my very strong opinion, is not made to play two seasons within a calendar year.”
The concern about player safety is real. However player safety concerns are not mentioned when junior college players and increasingly high school players start practicing again soon after their competitive seasons end. For example, in December, a prospect signed with LSU on the early signing day and started practicing that day in preparation for the Tigers college football playoff run. That scenario, however, is euphemistically recognized as “player development”.
Also, assuming there is a spring season, coaches can use their judgment and determine how hard they want players in the program to practice (obviously with the limitations established by the NCAA). If a coach knows a fall season is coming after a spring campaign, how wise is it to go “live” frequently during practice? Maybe the head coach doesn’t have as many goal line periods? Perhaps during games, there aren’t as many quarterback run plays knowing there will be a need to keep the quarterback for another “X” amount of games? Those kinds of decision impact player safety too.
Equally as concerning as player safety is the mentality in football that immediately rejects anything that is not consistent with the status quo.
At this point, we don’t know what spring football looks like. There has been no articulation of what spring football might look like aside from Purdue head coach, Jeff Brohm’s proposal. Nothing formal has been presented or made available for public scrutiny. We don’t know anything.
Will it be a short season consisting of:
Only a handful of games?
A conference only season?
A full season?
We don’t have any of the information yet critics are quick to dismiss the idea of the spring season. Galileo had less haters than those that try new things in college football.
How are we so sure that spring football isn’t going to work?
To this point, we have only seen college football played in the fall. Why is it so important to have football exclusively played in the fall?
A spring season may not work for some football programs, but might be a boon for others. Take for example, the “Group of 5” programs as well as those in FCS and Division II. We don’t get to see many of them now because they play at the same time as the Power 5 conferences.
They are small fishes in a big pond. What if they were the only fishes in the pond?
What is so great about fall football for these non-Power 5 programs? Fall football at many schools means playing in front of increasingly empty stadiums especially towards the end of the season. In order to get attention, teams have to play during the middle of the week.
Is it healthy for a team to play games played during the school week in Midwestern ice boxes and in front of few fans? Yes, it’s fun to refer to these MAC games as “MACtion” or talk about the “Fun Belt”. Have you been to one of these games? We have. It has all the life and ambience of a college library on a Saturday evening. What if, instead, the spring was exclusively for these teams?
In the fall, these programs have to fight for recognition that they may never get even if they are successful.
The idea that the Group of 5’s are going to play in a national championship game is completely unrealistic. UCF went undefeated during the 2017 and 2018 regular seasons and didn’t receive a nod to participate in the national championship. If a team did not get a consideration then – it won’t happen now. The Power 5 conferences won’t allow the upstart programs to take a chance at playing for a national title and make some real money.
Rather the Group of 5 are on the outside looking in and have to rely on the largesse of student fees, donors, non-fruitful broadcast right deals and money games.
The necessity of playing in the spring might force an entrepreneurial spirit in the non-Power 5 ranks. Programs may be able to band together and create better financial opportunities for themselves. If losing money games is a concern, they may be able to play a fall non-conference game against the Power 5 as a fine tuning game in lieu of a spring game in order to generate much needed funds for their programs.
There are fantastic programs, coaches and players that don’t get the visibility for their efforts and achievements. They get lost because they are up against Power 5 competition. It’s hard for them to get proper recognition for their efforts.
Placing them in spring allows them to have the football stage for themselves. This may create a more informed fanbase that can watch these games without having to decide between watching a Power 5 favorite program and these smaller programs. The fanbase might recognize that there is exciting football and talent at programs where the helmet logo is not easily recognizable.
The NCAA, the College Football Playoff Committee (the majority of members are of course employed or have close ties to Power 5 schools) and the network treat the Group of 5 and lower levels are treated as minor leagues. Spring football makes it possible to give these programs the attention and acclaim they deserve.
If you’re at a lower level, why wouldn’t you want to play in spring? What have you got to lose? This might be what is needed considering the economic uncertainties that will challenge the existence of many football programs and athletic departments in coming years.
The loud negative responses to spring football reflects groupthink and a systematic inability to embrace different ideas.
When there is some innovation or change in the game, people bemoan the changing of the game. In recent years, college football has welcome the use of replay, an ease of restrictions on transfers between schools, and the implementation of “targeting” rules. They aren’t perfect, and they get tweaked when there are issues. We expect the same will happen with spring football.
When change occurs in football, amazingly the sun rises the next day and the earth remains on its axis. And of course, fans still watch despite comments that the game has changed and is unrecognizable.
Football is a great game. It is however far from perfect. “Normal” wasn’t great for many programs. There are many things about the game that needs improvement. The game needs to change to reflect current realities.
Urban Meyer and others might be right about spring football. We could very well be wrong. And that’s OK. We will be happy to admit our error if that’s the case. But we have to give spring a shot. We can’t kill the idea without hearing any of the details. Change may come whether we want it or not and our collective approach, a product of our mindset may dictate whether it survives or not.
Opinions expressed are solely of the author and do not express the views or opinions of Headcoachranking.com.