You won’t hear this said too often, but Dabo Swinney is right.
The Clemson coach is known for his curious rants, but this time Swinney hit the right note. During an otherwise monotonous annual rite of football self-evaluation, he proposed allowing college teams the option of holding a spring game against itself or another out-of-conference regional team not on the regular-season schedule.
It was his most inspired idea since hiring Chad Morris. The Dabo Plan for a little regional spring competition is a no-brainer that is well past its time. It would be the perfect kind of outlet for reconnecting lost rivals like Clemson and Georgia or South and North Carolina.
“I think, first of all, it would be fun for the players,” Swinney said. “To be able to compete against somebody other than your same guys every day in practice, it will kind of give you something to look forward to.”
There is no question college fans around here are hungry for a taste of football this time of year. Last Saturday, a record 44,177 Bulldog fans showed up at Sanford Stadium to watch the Red and Black (which actually wore white) teams combine for 63 intra-squad points.
In Columbia, an estimated throng of 34,513 were in Williams-Brice to watch the Gamecocks take on the Gamecocks. Over in Death Valley, Clemson drew a record 28,000 to its annual spring Tiger tussle.
Tonight at 7:45 p.m. in Atlanta, Georgia Tech will hold its first-ever Friday night spring game, which the school is promoting as “more of a festival than an intra-squad scrimmage.” Dubbed “Friday Night on the Flats, presented by PNC Bank,” the free event will include concerts before and after the game as well as postgame fireworks at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Give the Yellow Jackets credit for trying very hard to entertain whoever shows up for a glorified football practice. Coach Paul Johnson isn’t opposed to Dabo’s plan of spicing things with an annual spring mixer with an Auburn or Georgia Southern.
“Off the cuff, it sounds like it might be a good idea but I really haven’t thought much about it,” Johnson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It can get old practicing against yourself. Anytime you can play or scrimmage against somebody else, it would be good. The NFL certainly does it in training camp. Basketball plays an exhibition before their season.”
Perhaps it’s an Atlantic Coast Conference thing, because Southeastern programs Georgia and South Carolina are a little less interested in the idea of off-season skirmishes with un-sated nonconference rivals.
“We already have our spring game here amongst ourselves,” Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier told a Columbia TV station when Dabo’s idea was broached. “Doesn’t make sense to get guys hurt. If you want to have a competition with an instate team, everyone’s going to want to win or lose, we have enough live action in the regular season to keep it that way.”
Of course, players can just as easily get hurt (and often do) hitting teammates in full-speed scrimmages. Georgia coach Mark Richt has different concerns.
“I think we’ve got to be careful what we ask for,” he said. “I think it would be exciting for the fans and exciting for the players to a certain degree. ... But I think it’s a time of year where there aren’t any scout teams. You don’t need to be scheming against another team. You need to be evaluating your own talent and giving these guys a chance to play.”
Richt likes the current spring arrangement for the same reason Swinney doesn’t – it’s all your own boys 100 percent of the time.
“We play four 12-minute quarters, but everybody who was playing was a Georgia Bulldog,” Richt said. “There’s a lot of guys who got an opportunity to play and get a look in a game situation. If you had a spring game (with another team) you’d probably play more guys than you’d normally play in a game but everybody’s competitive and everybody wants to win. And even in a game like that I’ve got a feeling that a lot of the guys that got a chance to play for us and make plays in the spring game may not have seen the field and I don’t think that’s healthy either.”
Swinney makes a reasonable counterpoint.
“It gives you an opportunity to give you a good measure of where some of your guys are ... when you’re going against somebody that’s totally unknown,” he said. “You see each other every day, you start to learn little nuances of each other, as far as each side of the ball.
“From a personnel standpoint, I think it would be a good thing. Because every time you scrimmage, you get three scrimmages, and every time somebody gets up slow, you hold your breath ’cause they’re all yours. As opposed to, if you scrimmage against somebody else, you only got half of them on the field.”
Swinney calls his idea “food for thought,” and it would take an NCAA member school or conference officially proposing a rule change to allow such inter-squad scrimmages to alter the bylaws that currently prevent it from happening.
If such a proposal were passed, it wouldn’t be required. If Spurrier wanted to keep everything in house, that would be his prerogative. If Clemson and Georgia wanted to set guidelines and trade hits, that would be up to them.
But guess which one would attract more attention and energize players and fans to a higher level of off-season interest. Charge a modest entry fee for fans and you’ll gather a tidy sum that can help offset rising university expenses.
“There’s potential to create a good revenue opportunity for something, whether it’s the school or charity or whatever,” Swinney said. “I think that would be fun.”
If the Dabo Plan doesn’t come to fruition, the Tigers and Yellow Jackets have other options to liven up the spring. Unlike the SEC, the ACC allows member schools to take advantage of NCAA loopholes permitting teams to take their spring practices anywhere within state or out-of-state within 100 miles of campus. Virginia is the first school to really embrace the concept, with a spring roadshow to recruiting outposts in the Tidewater, Richmond and Northern Virginia areas. Think the SEC might loosen its prohibition on off-campus practice if Georgia Tech hosts a practice or two in Augusta, Macon and Valdosta or Clemson spends a weekend in Hilton Head?
I’d rather see the Tigers and Bulldogs reunited by Dabo’s inspired plan. It’s high time college football sprung forward with some creative new ideas.