Friday, September 29, 2023

Games People Play 4.26.2006

By Rick Racela

College Football Is Big in the Spring
It’s a phenomenon.  Nothing less.
 What has historically been a quiet, nondescript time for extra preparation before the end of school and a chance to look at young players and new coaches, major college spring football has evolved into a media and fan spectacle.
 It’s really quite amazing.  These are practice sessions that take place for less than a month and culminate with an inter-squad scrimmage game.  But these days, the video cameras are rolling, photograph cameras are flashing, and journalists are jotting.
 People should not wonder why major college sports are somewhat out of control.   Like most issues, the root of this newfound gospel of sports has many origins.  The boorish behavior of many professional athletes and owners has driven more fans into the college game.
 Alumni are nothing short of maniacal when it comes to their alma maters.  They wage war at workplaces across the nation about bragging rights for conferences and rivalries.
 ESPN – The cable sports giant has brought otherwise unknown sports and personalities into our living rooms and bars.  And I’m not just talking about lumberjacks and poker players.  See the NFL draft and a dude named Mel Kiper Jr. for more information.
 Cable sports channels do not have situation comedy and other network programming to concern themselves with, so they began showing all sorts of unknown competitions, many of which developed cult followings. 
 These days, the Division II and III national football championships are televised, something unheard of about a decade ago.
 The painful length of basketball and hockey regular seasons has revealed the unrest and thirst the sporting public has for football.  Even the early baseball season cannot totally quench the desire for gridiron action.
 Hot stove.  Call it what you want, but the off-season is the time for unheralded players to make names for themselves.  It’s a form of Hollywood gossip, only it involves running, throwing and tackling, not famous weddings and more frequent divorces.
 Penn State will unveil its new quarterback, Anthony Morelli, in late August, but the spring intersquad game, a.k.a. Blue and White Classic, allowed Morelli to wow the alums and have them dreaming of a national championship.  They probably sold a few shirts and caps during the game, as well.
 The battle for recruits.  Head coaches and university advancement offices love the media coverage because high school stars are paying attention.  If the very best high school athletes come to your school, they may help the head coach to glory and they may help the endowment fund if/when they become wealthy NFL players.  It all connects.  It’s the biggest of big business.
 You could call these spring games an investment because that’s what they do.  They are the seeds of young talent and potential dollars being planted out of season.  They will, with any luck, mature and grow in the fall amidst parking lot partying, stadium shaking screams, boisterous school bands, and cameras at every turn.
 Spring football was a failed experiment in the old USFL.  The fledgling league tried to grab the NFL off-season market but failed after three years.  Spring football just takes a small slice of the attention span pie.  It’s just enough for a taste, some banter and prognostication about the year to come.
 Several of this year’s spring games in the northeast took place during last Saturday’s windy, rainy conditions.  Even though they were scheduled as “scrimmages,” the games went on despite the nasty weather.  And several were televised!
 The games must go on, especially when they are such a lucrative investment.  And we must admit it.  As fans, we peak at those articles or listen to those stories about who did what, who is looking good, who’s coming back from injury, the status of that red shirt freshman, how the new coach is doing and the list goes on.
 There’s a market so there’s a camera.  The proliferation of these spring football games makes that obvious.

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