Dienhart: "The Game" in the spring, too?

Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is a genius–at least when it comes to spicing up spring football games. Let’s face it: These spring “games” often are little more than glorified scrimmages to appease and tease fans. The interest? Minimal—aside from the true cognoscenti. Many coaches don’t like them, preferring to run a scrimmage or just conduct another practice for fear of injury. Lack of depth is another reason many coaches don’t like intrasquad scrimmages, as it often makes it difficult to split teams into even squads.

So, how can we spice these spring games up?

Well, Swinney proposes to have the NCAA allow spring scrimmages against other teams, which may assuage some of those fears and enhance the development teams and promote the sport.

Brilliant.

So, instead of, say, a mundane “Scarlet vs. Gray” game at Ohio State, where one team may be much better than the other, fans could watch Michigan scrimmage vs. Ohio State.

Think more people would be interested in that? You betcha.

Such scrimmages would generate lots of talk and interest across the region—if not the nation–bringing college football into the spotlight in what typically is a time of year dominated by the NFL draft, baseball and NHL/NBA playoffs.

Luke Fickell & Brady Hoke

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High-profile scrimmages also could fatten coffers. Schools that don’t already charge admission may now be able to—and those that already charge may be able to charge more. And the big event would be a great time to market the team for the next season, selling tickets and merchandise.

And perhaps these attractive scrimmages could bring some type of significant TV revenue. A hard-core Michigan fan would watch a Maize vs. Blue scrimmage, but not a casual fan. But spice it up by having Michigan scrimmage Ohio State? And every alum suddenly would be interested, making this much-watch TV.

These game-like scrimmages against a different foe would provide a great testing ground for younger players, who are the ones who benefit most from spring drills. It also would be beneficial for new coaches and staffs to have a game simulation of sorts to smooth nuances and communication issues.

Are there potential issues? Not many. Injuries could be a problem, but players get hurt in practices all the time. One way to make games a bit safer would be to not permit any blitzing by defenses. And live play on special teams also could be eliminated. But other than that, have it be all out.

Swinney proposes having teams from different conferences scrimmage. Why? In some ways, that takes away the appeal. Fans don’t want to see Michigan play, say, a MAC team. Fans want to see Michigan battle a familiar foe. Besides, most Big Ten schools aren’t within Swinney’s proposed “reasonable driving distance” from other major conference teams, unlike ACC and SEC schools that have lots of geographic cross over.

Here is how I would pair the Big Ten schools for their annual spring scrimmages:

  • Ohio State-Michigan
  • Iowa-Nebraska
  • Wisconsin-Minnesota
  • Illinois-Northwestern
  • Purdue-Indiana
  • Michigan State-Penn State

While we are at it, have the marching band take part, invite tailgaters, suit up the mascot and trot out the cheerleaders and bill it as a “taste of October in April.” We can all spring forward to the fall, the greatest time of year.

What do you think?

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, and all of his work is at btn.com/tomdienhart. Send questions to his weekly mailbag, subscribe to his RSS feed, and check out his video Q&A.

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Show Comments (5 Comments)
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huskerred on 4/12/2012 @ 5:10am EDT Said:

I think with a +1 playoff in the near future and the possibility of players being hurt in a “no matter game” is at best risky business. I am sure the media (especially television) would endorse it, as it would be another cash cow for them. If it happens I see your close proximity to play Iowa; however, if it is implied as a “rival scrimmage” I don’t buy in. I think that if the divisions stay as they currently are a rivalary game will develope for the Husker fanbase in a decade or so, but i don’t believe it will be with Iowa. In my cohort of Neb fans I hear and see two possible teams that may develope into our next arch nemesis, but rarely hear Iowa as that team.

Joe on 4/12/2012 @ 9:46am EDT Said:

Don’t like the idea of playing Ohio State in a scrimmage. If a team doesn’t win both games, there’ll be too much talk about who’s actually better. Save it for the big game! Like the idea of scrimmage against smaller schools like Eastern or Western Michigan though.

A.J. on 4/12/2012 @ 12:28pm EDT Said:

I don’t know that I support scrimmaging another school (injuries will probably be a factor no matter what), but if they decide to do that I’d rather see schools face off against an opponent they won’t play that year. I’d like to see the rivalry games saved for fall when they really matter, and in the case of the B1G, you’d have the opportunity to have your team go against someone you may not see for at least 4 years. For example, Ohio State will go 4 years without playing Nebraska, Northwestern, Minnesota, Iowa, and Michigan State at some point due to the divisional setup, so why not scrimmage them on a rotational basis if you’re going to go through with it?

J.C. on 4/12/2012 @ 12:35pm EDT Said:

Ohio State has drawn as low as 44,000 and as high as 76,000 for the Scarlet and Gray game the past five seasons (w/ varying weather). I don’t think ‘lack of interest’ applies to certain programs.

Plus, everything surrounding certain Spring Games, such as drafting, winner/loser consequences and other factors will now be obsolete (as beating an outside opponent would be the main goal for certain coaches). Some players would also never see the field in a different format (fourth-team, walk-ons, etc.), since you’re no longer fielding two teams.

If a Spring Game draws 100,000 people and two schools play, who gets the money (why would I want to split?), where I can draw 70,000-80,000 by myself and keep 100% (or donate the money to a local charity)?

BTW, if I’m scrimmaging a team in the Spring, why wouldn’t I try to take out Denard Robinson or Braxton Miller for the Fall (injure them)? What’s the NCAA going to do (it’s a scrimmage, not an NCAA-sanctioned event)?

cw823 on 4/12/2012 @ 12:57pm EDT Said:

Sounds like a great idea. Use the scrimmage to hurt the other team’s best players, so you have a better chance to beat them down the road.

Brilliant!

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