ATHENS — Spring football has taken on a whole new meaning at the collegiate level.
The focus of the fall season remains the focus in the SEC, ACC, Big 12, American Athletic, Conference USA and Sun Belt conferences.
But for the Big 10 it’s a lifeline to keep players engaged and out of the transfer portal, even if there are obvious flaws that would seem to compromise the product and potentially put student-athlete more at risk with more games in a year.
SEC spring take
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, whose league is scheduled to move forward with fall practices on Aug. 17 leading up to a Sept. 26 start date, explained last month how many players would likely opt out to train for the upcoming NFL draft (Apr. 29-May 1).
Sankey said the SEC hadn’t taken the spring football concept “completely off the table,” but it was not a priority for the SEC in its weekly athletic director chats.
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity revealed in a recent Zoom call that spring football has always been Plan B.
“The spring was really not an option that we discussed,” McGarity said. “It was a fallback if everything else failed.”
But how viable of a fall-back plan is it, really?
Former Florida and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said there’s “No chance” of spring football working out.
“You can’t ask student-athletes to play two seasons in one calendar year.”
Illinois coach Lovie Smith said there’s time to figure it out.
“I’ve never seen two football seasons in one calendar year,” Smith told the News-Gazette. “There’s a lot of thought that’s going to have to go into that. But we have time for that.”
Ohio State coach Ryan Day is apparently all-in.
“We start this in the first week of January, and that would allow players like Justin (Fields) the opportunity to play in the season and get himself ready for the draft,” Ryan Day said, per Sporting News. “I think we need to go on this right now.”
Purdue coach Jeff Brohm released a full-fledged plan for spring football, including a schedule that would seem to make the concept more feasible.
The highlights of Brohm’s plan are an eight-game season that would start in February with a playoff in May. Then, a fall season that starts in October and is 10 games long.
Former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy took to social media and made his thoughts about Brohm’s spring football proposal clear.
“In this plan, you’re asking players to play between 18-22 games in a 10-month span …” McElroy’s Tweet said. “Physical contact in Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec and Jan.
“If you think that’s ok, then so be it … But, don’t preach “health and safety” of the student athletes.”
“Spring football” used to mean the 15 practice dates allocated by the NCAA for programs to work with players in the spring semester.
Coached used those practices to evaluate talent, maintain conditioning and hatch fall plans.
Eight of the 14 SEC programs didn’t have any spring football prep in 2019.
The ones that did were Kentucky (5 practices), South Carolina (5), Vanderbilt (4), LSU (3), Missouri (3) and Tennessee (2).
Euro spring experience
Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst, who experienced spring football season while coaching in the now-defunct World League of American Football (WLAF) in 1991-92, conceded two seasons in a year would be challenging.
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said a shorter spring season might be in order.
“(Chryst) said two full seasons back-to-back is too much,” Alvarez said on Tuesday via a Zoom call with reporters, per SI.com’s AllBadgers Site. “So taking that into consideration, my natural thinking is six, eight games, something like that if you do something in the spring.”
Said Chryst, “I think the starting point to spring ball is, how do you want the fall to look like?”
Finally, there’s the question of eligibility, and if student-athletes would want to use up a year of their window an an abbreviated spring football season.
The NCAA granted student-athletes who opt out of fall sports or who have had their fall seasons canceled an extra year of eligibility on Wednesday.
There are several complications ahead for college football, indeed, with spring football being just one of many future possibilities.
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