Spring Football May Have A New Look In The Future
LARRY LAGE,AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Michigan facing another school in a spring game at the Big House?
Wolverines coach Brady Hoke working with Eastern Michigan’s Ron English to put together a plan to benefit both team during a day or two of spring drills?
That could happen someday.
When the American Football Coaches Association board meets in Arizona next month, possibly proposing NCAA rule changes that would allow schools to scrimmage or practice against other programs during the spring is expected to be on the agenda.
“Based upon the buzz about this within the profession the last couple of months, I’m sure we’ll be talking about this when we meet,” AFCA president and Harvard coach Tim Murphy told The Associated Press. “I think the NFL model would be a good way to do it, going through drills with another team. If you wanted to hold a scrimmage, you could do it, but it would just be more complex.
“It wouldn’t be unprecedented, though, because other college sports do it.”
Basketball, soccer and field hockey are the Division I sports allowed to have scrimmages or exhibition games before their first game.
NCAA rules strictly prohibit football programs from practicing or scrimmaging against other schools during spring ball.
Alabama’s Nick Saban and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops are among the coaches who would rather leave spring ball just the way it is.
“You can really focus on trying to develop unknowns in your players, which I think is really important,” Saban said. “I think that’s the real value of spring practice.”
Stoops brought up the major obstacle that might stop the changes from happening.
“My main concern always this time of year is having my full squad healthy, ready to enter the summer, to continue to build strength, speed and get ready for the year when we do play people,” Stoops said.
Nebraska Athletic Director and former football coach Tom Osborne said the changes would alter the objectives of spring ball by competitive coaches who would spend too much time preparing for the opponent.
“Spring ball is best used for development,” Osborne said.
NCAA rules allow football programs to have 15 spring practices — including a spring game and up to two additional scrimmages — and eight of the 12 sessions can include tackling.
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe, who is on the AFCA board of trustees, and Duke’s David Cutcliffe both said their peers have been talking about wanting to be able to scrimmage or practice against other schools for at least a few decades.
Michigan State Athletic Director Mark Hollis said football coach Mark Dantonio discussed it a couple years ago at a Big Ten coaches meeting. Hollis said the Big Ten and Mid-American Conference could perhaps form a partnership to cut down costs if scrimmages or practices against other schools were permitted.
“That’s an old idea, that’s a good idea, but that’s very difficult to get the NCAA to move in those regards,” Cutcliffe said. “Your best chance is if you can prove you can make some money because then you have a chance for the presidents and the ADs to vote in favor of it.”
Cost containment, Murphy said, would be a big factor is drafting a proposal to potentially make it happen.
Many schools let the public watch their spring game, or final practice, for free while others can get away with charging a small fee.
Nebraska charges $10 and can still draw a big crowd as it did a year ago with nearly 67,000 in the stands. Auburn had an announced crowd of 52,309 last year with fans paying $5 each. Oklahoma sells tickets $5 in advance and $10 at the door and usually draws more than 20,000 fans.
Alabama, which doesn’t charge admission to its spring game, has drawn 92,000-plus fans to watch.
Michigan lets fans watch the team’s spring finale for free, asking for charitable donation in recent years, and athletic director Dave Brandon would be OK with charging $5 or $10 to cover travel costs for the visiting schools if the NCAA changed its rules.
“We’d like to think we could fill the Big House,” Brandon said. “But I wouldn’t want it to get so big with expensive ticket prices to turn it into another game.”
If Hoke had his way, an NCAA rule would allow him to invite another program to town for practice — without fans or reporters — for situational drills that both coaches want to use with tackling on perhaps one of the two days.
“I think it would be a great idea,” Hoke said.
English would up for taking his Eagles on a 15-minute bus trip in the spring to share a field with the Wolverines.
“Spring ball gets long for coaches and players, so this rule change would add a little spice and a sense of urgency to get things done,” English said.
North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams would be in favor of facing another other school — rather than his teammates — in a new-look spring game.
“Anytime you get an opportunity to hit somebody else is always better,” Williams said. “Against your teammates, you want to be aggressive, but you don’t want to be that aggressive because you never want to injure your own teammates.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney hopes programs, players and fans get a chance to enjoy a new-look spring in college football in the future.
“The NFL does it, why shouldn’t we?” Swinney asked. “It doesn’t have to be a game. We don’t even have to turn the scoreboard on, but it lets us get a gauge. Plus, it’ll create excitement for spring ball.
“Do I think we’ll ever see it? You can never say never.”
AP Sports Writers John Zenor, Jeff Latzke, Eric Olson, Aaron Beard, Joedy McCreary and Pete Iacobelli contributed to this report.
Follow Larry Lage on Twitter at http://www.Twitter.com/larrylage
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