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Gans: Welcome back, “football” (April 17)

Sam Gans | Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What is the purpose of college football spring games?

I’ve found myself asking this question a lot more the past few years. I’m not entirely sure why it took me so long. Perhaps when I was younger, I had a naïve belief that spring games were very important  that they could give a bit of a glimpse into who the top performers would be that season, who would potentially break out and if the coaching staff made any notable changes in playcalling or formations.

By now, I’ve finally taken heed of the advice coaches at programs throughout the country have always given: The spring game is really not a big deal.

All across the country since the invention of the spring game, fans of every program have seen strong performances by many players that have simply not translated to when it counts. Junior Jabbie shockingly did not win Notre Dame’s eighth Heisman in 2007 after his dominating spring game. Ohio State fans are still waiting for Bam Childress to win the Biletnikoff after his spring game heroics in the early 2000s.

Though I still put some stock in spring games despite the large evidence they don’t mean much, this season has tested my opinion. A 7-year-old cancer patient running for a touchdown in the Nebraska spring game (before I get any hate mail saying I have no soul for criticizing this, I would like to clarify I think it was wonderful. I’m just saying this exemplifies the lax nature of the spring game) and an injured Jadeveon Clowney “scoring” on a reception in the South Carolina spring game show just how meaningless parts of these games can be.

Programs also seem to be varying up the spring game much more than in the past, away from what is the traditional football scenario. Some programs do offense against defense with a modified scoring system instead of team versus team. Sometimes, games aren’t regulation length to accommodate television.

The truly bizarre thing is as spring games seem to become more gimmicky ¾ in terms of the format of the games and even plays within the games themselves ¾ the coverage of them actually seems to be increasing. The spring games of nearly every top program can be seen on national television or are easily accessible online, and College GameDay’s bus is visiting various campuses throughout the country for spring games. Fans can’t seem to get enough of spring football action.

And I am one of those people. I’ve seen at least parts of numerous spring games throughout the nation this year and will be in attendance for the Blue-Gold game this year. Why for something that doesn’t matter?

Well first, it’s hard to know if that whole statement about the spring game not meaning anything is even fully truthful. Brian Kelly’s rationale for why Everett Golson got the first crack with the first team at the beginning of fall practice last year? “He had the better spring game in our evaluation.” That, of course, did not win Golson the job, but it did give him a leg up. So there’s at least a small bit in these intrasquad scrimmages that fans can take away.

Though there’s not the pressure of winning and losing in a spring game, it’s really the only time of the whole year, besides actual games that count, where players are thrust into a giant spotlight in front of tens of thousands of fans and many more watching at home. And that pressure can be useful for a coaching staff in determining who can compete on fall Saturdays. Spring game performances for numerous players on teams throughout America have propelled them into more prominent roles heading into fall practice. Therefore, I’m not sure I completely buy the notion spring games mean nothing to coaches.

But second, even if they don’t reveal much, who cares? It’s a long journey from the beginning of January until the very end of August.  That’s eight months without college football games that count, so the scrimmages at least provide fans some hitting and tackling again and help bridge that long gap.

So do spring games mean anything? Can we take any meaningful information away? The answer to both those questions is maybe a little, but not much.

But it is football. And after more than three months of no college football and more than four more until North Carolina visits South Carolina on Aug. 29, I’m not complaining about getting some relief from the withdrawal for a couple of weeks.

Contact Sam Gans at sgans@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.