In summer, there’s baseball; in fall, you get football; and in winter, it’s basketball. But what about spring?
Spring and… football? They’re two words that just don’t seem to go together, unless of course you happen to be a part of a Division I college football program.
The annual spring football games are nothing more than glorified scrimmages in which teammates go head-to-head in an effort to showcase their comparative talent.
Still, thousands of fans flocked to stadiums across the country this month to catch even the slightest glimpse of what their respective teams might look like in the fall. In return, the teams give the fans what they want: football.
It seems people in this country just cannot get enough of football these days. Even on a day in the middle of April when they could be enjoying the outdoors, hitting the links or taking in a ballgame, many Americans apparently would rather watch their favorite college program’s first string dismantle the backups.
This is the biggest problem in the spring football game at the University of Wisconsin. Rather than pit offensive and defensive starters on opposite teams, they put them together to run up the score against the second-stringers.
So really, when you have a guy like Zach Brown racking up 110 yards on just 14 carries Saturday, can you really learn anything from such a feat?
The short answer is no.
Sure, Brown can carry the ball for nearly eight yards per carry against guys that aren’t likely to start a game all season, but can he do it against a Big Ten-caliber defense? Well, the first step in figuring that out would be to have him face the No. 1 defense.
And it’s not like they don’t practice against the defensive starters in a regular practice setting anyway. So, if the offense is used to going against a tougher caliber of defender to begin with, why make it easy on them in the spring game?
Perhaps, it’s done to build the confidence of the No. 1 offense. Or, perhaps, they believe the No. 2 line will learn more from facing the first-string than the first-string will lose from facing the second-string.
Regardless of the basis of such a decision, it seems to be a poor one.
Likewise, the Badgers’ No. 1 defense impressed in Saturday’s outing, not allowing a single offensive touchdown while recording seven “sacks.” But does it really matter if J.J. Watt and O’Brien Schofield can get two hands on backups Jon Budmayr and Scott Tolzien?
Or would it be more useful for everyone involved to see how Watt and Schofield fare against the No. 1 offensive line and quarterbacks Curt Phillips and Dustin Sherer?
It’s likely the latter would be more effective practice for all players involved, and though there may not be nearly as many points scored, it would be more exciting for fans as well.
Aside from the lack of marquee matchups (Jaevery McFadden versus John Clay, anyone?), the biggest hole in the concept of the spring football game is the game atmosphere.
Fans who want to watch their teams scrimmage in the month of April still appear to be in the minority, leaving two-thirds of Camp Randall Stadium roped off and empty for the game Saturday. And when it started raining in the second quarter, many in the (roughly) estimated crowd of 23,500 at the free event headed for cover, and eventually the exits.
With what appeared to be fewer than 5,000 fans remaining for the second half, the “game” then felt exactly like what it really was: the 15th of 15 spring football practices.
Still, fans can’t be blamed too much for leaving early. With kickoffs eliminated and punt returns limited to fair catches, all the intensity that usually surrounds a change of possession was stripped from the game in the name of safety.
Maybe, instead the Badgers could have instituted a similar rule on kickoffs as they had with quarterback sacks. Rather than risk injury with a tackle, blow the play dead when a defender touches the ball carrier.
Sure, this might eliminate some of the more impressive returns that come after initial contact, but if a returner manages to sprint down the sideline untouched, it will bring immensely more excitement to the spring game than starting each possession at the 30-yard line.
Unfortunately, because of the nature of the game of football, we’ll have to wait until September to see any real-game action. Until then, there’s always baseball, right?
Jordan is a junior majoring in journalism and political science. Think Saturday’s spring game could have been better? Let him know at [email protected]