published Saturday, April 18th, 2009

Epps: Spring game really is deal for the fans


by Darren Epps
Audio clip

Urban Meyer

College football fans rarely get their way.

Ticket prices are exorbitant. These days, you have to donate money just to get the opportunity to pay the exorbitant price, which is like getting to choose which metal pipe you will be beaten with. Practices are closed. More and more games start late at night, forcing some fans to stay in hotels. Parking keeps getting moved back. Ever hear of those 5K charity walks? College football fans do that every Saturday, minus the charity part.

Like a loyal puppy, of course, college football fans keep coming back. But for one day, one glorious day, college football fans win.

For one day, coaches can’t close practice. Ticket prices are like cab drivers — they never break 20. Games are typically during the afternoon and accompanied by autograph sessions and baseball games. For eight fan bases, including the one based in Knoxville, that day is today. It’s the traditional spring game.

This day is for the fans.

It’s certainly not for the coaches. If the coaches dictated the schedule for the final day of spring practice, it would include some light hitting, some conditioning and their favorite part — getting the heck out of there before someone gets hurt. The spring game is a necessary evil.

“It is,” Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. “You try to make the most of it. We’ve got Archie Manning and Eli Manning and other former players that are going to be here. The parents get to be here. But we want to get out of here without anybody getting hurt. You hold your breath. We want a quick game and everybody feeling good.”

And the football isn’t much better than your average youth football league. No one is showing off any new looks with CSS replaying some of these games more than TBS reruns “Seinfeld” and “Friends.” So most programs add other spectacles to the day.

“Spring games are usually awful,” Florida coach Urban Meyer said. “It’s not great ball. Since I’ve been coaching, I haven’t seen a good game. So last year we had a fastest-man competition and put the Heisman Trophy out there. You don’t show a spring game for the quality of football. You show it for the fans to see the campus and the stadium and sell the program.”

That’s right. The fans. For one day, it’s all about the fan.

Georgia coach Mark Richt said he actually likes the spring game because “you can’t simulate the crowd.” Richt said he would probably scrimmage the last day of spring even if a glorified exhibition wasn’t the traditional finale.

Nick Saban is doing his part to make the game entertaining, pitting the first team against the first team.

“The spring game is sort of a big event around here,” Saban said, giving us an early leader for understatement of the year.

But let’s get greedy. The fans get one day for themselves, right? Make the most of it. Make the spring game a scrimmage between, say, Georgia and Clemson. Or Tennessee and Virginia Tech. Maybe Alabama and Georgia Tech.

“I think that would be a lot of fun. I think the guys would enjoy it and the fans,” Richt said, getting my hopes up. “But I don’t know if it’s the wisest thing to do, necessarily. The thing about the spring game is we get to play all of our guys against each other. If you play against the other team, you would play less guys, more than likely, and less guys would get the opportunity to show what they can do.”

Well, fine. Georgia and Clemson play for real in 2013. Start saving up.

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