Vince Dooley: Spring scrimmages with other teams could have new importance
ATHENS — Vince Dooley’s old college football idea could be part of the solution for a rapidly emerging new problem.
There has been a great deal of speculation that even if college football returns this fall — on schedule or delayed — it could do so without fans in attendance on account of the coronavirus pandemic.
Schools figures to lose tens of millions of dollars in revenue, and the respective communities where they are located would also suffer significant losses.
So, why not transform the annual intra-squad spring scrimmage into a spring showcase event against another team?
“I thought about that as an athletic director,” said Dooley, who served as the Bulldogs head coach from 1964-1988, taking on athletic director duties at the school from 1979-2004. “I had a discussion with some people in the league, and I couldn’t get any traction.”
Dooley estimates that was back in the mid-1980s, when the SEC had 10 schools and played only six games. Then, like now, some schools would go several years without playing one another.
“I always felt like it could be a new source for revenue, to have a spring football game against a team you don’t play during the season,” Dooley said. “For example, if we were not playing Alabama in a particular year, that might be the spring game over a two-year period.
“You play the spring game one year in Sanford Stadium, and the next year in Tuscaloosa. Or LSU would be another one.”
No doubt, the interest and revenue generated would be significant, and it would certainly boost the local economy.
That would be especially helpful in Athens, which has played one less home SEC game every other season for years with the annual Florida rivalry held in Jacksonville.
That rivalry game has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into the Jacksonville economy over the years, now pouring an estimated $35 million into the Florida city’s area annually.
The Athens community would have benefitted greatly from that income in all areas of its infrastructure, from its schools to its civic government, and funding for healthcare facilities.
But now is a time to look forward, and Dooley’s idea might just gain more traction with the current challenges facing collegiate athletics.
Rather than alternate years at one another’s stadiums, another idea is teams could go split squad and have games taking place in both collegiate towns on the same weekend. One on Saturday, one on Sunday.
There have been other coaches who have championed the idea of playing other schools in spring scrimmages, most notably Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.
“Personally, I think it would be a good thing for college football to do,” Swinney said in a 2012 Atlanta Journal-Constitution story. “College football takes in a lot of money. I think it would be an opportunity to give something back to your school or a charity.”
College football revenue accounts between 70 and 80 percent of the athletic budget at most schools, with tickets accounting for the majority of the money.
If social distancing rules and/or concerns remain in place while doctors and scientists race for a vaccine and better treatment methods for COVID-19, playing games without fans in attendance might be a necessary concession.
As important as the ticket sales are, the television contracts are also a large chunk of schools’ athletic budgets.
At Georgia, the annual football revenue is $70 million between ticket sales, seat donations and other peripheral income not including donations. Another $44.6 million came from the money distributed by the SEC, most of which came from television partnerships.
Swinney, in pitching the spring game with outside schools years ago, pointed out such offseason scrimmages already exist in basketball, as well as baseball and softball.
Georgia and Florida, in fact, played a baseball exhibition game last November in Jacksonville the day before the teams’ annual football clash.
SEC Network analyst Chris Doering, a former Florida All-American, believes spring football scrimmages between different programs makes sense.
“I love that idea, and I think it would be a tremendous idea,” Doering told DawgNation on Tuesday. “It would be a way to create more fan interest, and at the same time, everyone is looking for a way to create revenue.
“That’s a great revenue producer, not only because of ticket sales, but television revenue as well. I think it’s a tremendous idea, I love the idea of the split squad idea. I would even be open to an NFL preseason idea where the team comes in early and you’re working practices together leading up to that spring game.”
It’s a sure bet SEC commissioner Greg Sankey will be taking all things under consideration in his daily discussions with SEC administrative leaders and Power 5 commissioners.
Dooley’s old idea might just have a new use before all is said and done.
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