The popularity of spring games has become a problem for coaches and players. It used to be that the spring game was a fun little scrimmage with players going all out and coaches test ideas and strategies that could be taken from the spring and expanded upon in the summer and fall.
Then the TV networks (specifically ESPN) realized that spring games could fill hours of empty programming and the games became available for all to see.
That is when coaches – a secretive bunch at the best of times- decided en mass that it was not worth having their games mean anything in the spring if it was going to give them as a disadvantage in the fall.
This quote from Nebraska head coach Mike Riley really says it all:
“This game now, being on TV, it just becomes another scouting tool for all our opponents next year,” Riley said. “So there was no way we wanted to do anything that was out of the box at all.”
The three-headed monster of the SEC Network, ESPN and ESPNU is showing each and every one of the SEC spring games this season. Vanderbilt didn’t choose to have a spring game, but even the Commodores were invaded by the media with highlights of their last practice being shown on the SEC Network.
Missouri head coach Barry Odom had this to say about the Tigers spring game.
“We called three different calls defensively and probably not many more offensively,” Odom said. “We got enough work in with the playbook and will continue to grow that.”
Why would anyone want to go and watch a game that is played like this? Are the coaches deliberately putting in as little effort as possible in the hope that next year the cameras stay away?
Does this hurt the development of players in the long run as they are not exposed early enough to the real offense for the next season?
These are all good questions that need to be answered when we decide if spring games are something for the future or just a relic of the past.