Spring football doesn’t mean a whole lot

Sports Commentary

The tailgaters were out. The flags were flying high above Memorial Stadium. Strike up the band. Spring football has become a ritual at colleges and universities across the country.

The appeal is seen by some fans, especially in the Southeastern Conference. More than 60,000 showed up for Tennessee’s spring game. At Auburn more than 83,000 showed up. Keep in mind, these two teams combined to go 1-15 in conference play last season.

It’s a chance for fans to get together, strike up the grills and tell their comrades how good or bad their favorite team is going to be.

But spring games offer little in the way of meaningful football, if that’s what someone is looking for.

Everyone knew going into Saturday’s scrimmage there was a battle for the No. 1 quarterback spot. Everyone knew there would still be a battle after the game.

How a player performs in the one scrimmage likely doesn’t have much of an effect on his position on the depth chart.

Coaches, including Missouri’s Gary Pinkel, admit the entire set of spring practices are graded, not just the final scrimmage.

Plus, it’s hard to get into a rhythm because it’s not a real game situation. The Black and Gold Game pits the first team against the second team with the second team getting a 14-point advantage. But players switch units so often it’s hard to tell which team even has the ball. Even the scoreboard operator was confused on Missouri’s first touchdown on who should have gotten the points.

The system is an improvement from previous years when it was offense against defense, with points given for first downs, turnovers, sacks etc.

At Lincoln’s spring game Saturday, much of the time was spent on situation-based plays instead of a game. That is tough for fans to follow and can turn into a real snoozer in a hurry.

For what it’s worth, more than 18,000 fans showed up in Columbia for the annual Black and Gold Game. The noise rarely reached a dull roar.

So how can one make spring football more exciting?

• Celebrity coaches for each team.

Missouri has a lot of famous alumni who I’m sure would love to come in and strap on the headset for a chance to coach a team. Imagine Missouri governor Jay Nixon coaching against senator Claire McCaskill. Or sports reporter Pat Forde calling plays opposite of PBS’ Jim Lehrer. Or what about Chase Daniel coaching against Justin Smith. Shoot, have men’s basketball coach Frank Haith go against women’s basketball coach Robin Pingeton. Pinkel doesn’t even coach the game anyway, his assistants do.

• Let the fans pick the teams

How great would it be if Missouri fans could pick the teams. Fans could buy tickets for a raffle with a chance to be a captain to pick the teams for the game. The money could even go to charity. It would be like elementary school dodgeball all over again.

• Let fans take some snaps

This might be tough and would take some time, but what about another raffle where fans could try and win a chance to play in the spring game? Pick a few lucky fans, let them work with the players and coaches for a day and then put them out on the field for a few snaps with the Tigers. This one seems dumb, but might be entertaining. In Lincoln’s case, wouldn’t it be awesome to see members of the band take some snaps with the team?

These ideas may sound far-fetched, but I can’t be the only one who thinks Missouri (and likely other schools) needs to do something to make spring football more exciting.

As one of my friends said yesterday:

“I love college football. I love the spring. But I don’t love them together.”

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