John Infante believes we’re on the verge of seeing the spring game disappear as an annual event.
All over the country coaches are doing away with spring games. Texas A&M was forced to by renovations to Kyle Field. But Oklahoma State and Pitt did so voluntarily. This is becoming a trend and it will likely be a terminal one for this annual spring tradition.
Why? It’s a victim of mandated time constraints.
The spring game is counted as one of the 15 practice sessions that make up spring practice. In addition to the overall limit of 15, no more than 12 sessions can include contact. Of the 12 contact sessions, only eight can including tackling. And of the eight tackling sessions, only three can devote more than 50% of the time to 11-on–11 scrimmaging. Spring games obviously count as one of those three scrimmages.
So it makes sense that coaches are moving away from a fan- or competition-focused spring game to an open practice or doing away with it entirely. Coaches have precious little time to work with their team in the spring. Unlike other sports this is the only skill instruction coaches can provide between the end of the football season and the start of fall camp. Not only does a spring game take away from this time generally, it takes away from the most limited subset of this time, 11-on–11 scrimmaging that includes tackling.
And time may become even more constrained.
As limited as that time is, it could be getting even more limited as well. If contact during practice needs to be reduced for safety reasons, one of the easiest places to try and reduce it will be in spring practice. 12 sessions with contact might become eight, eight sessions of tackling might become four, and three scrimmages might become two, one, or none.
Infante mentions changing the spring game to a meeting between schools (an idea I’ve always liked) as a way to save it, but if player safety concerns grow, I don’t see how an inter-school scrimmage helps. It’s sad, but the only thing I can come up with to counter Infante’s argument is that ESPN sure likes the added broadcast product it’s gotten from these glorified scrimmages over the past few years. Is that enough?
The spring game is a beloved tradition, particularly in our neck of the woods. But like so many things driving college football these days, ultimately it won’t be about what we fans want. That doesn’t mean we won’t miss it if it goes.