Here's how spring scrimmages between Power 5 teams could actually work
No, I’m not holding my breath on Mike Gundy’s idea of spring scrimmages between Power 5 teams actually happening.
The Oklahoma State coach threw out that idea during a press conference this past week.
“Yeah, I mean it would be good for us to scrimmage… Arkansas. You got Nebraska, got A&M,” Gundy said during his presser. “There’s teams around that would be good to have a spring game, spring scrimmage, where you do like the NFL. Do some inside, do some seven-on(-seven), do some team. I would be for that. Just from a numbers standpoint.”
Could Oklahoma State hold a spring game scrimmage against Arkansas or Nebraska or Texas A&M? Mike Gundy says, “I would be for that.” pic.twitter.com/DxH70DOC17
— Bryan Keating (@KOCOKeating) March 31, 2021
Gundy has a point. It would be plenty beneficial for everyone to be able to have a true spring scrimmage against another school. There’s a way it can be done. It would take Power 5 commissioners settling on some rules, of course.
Nobody is signing up for basically a 60-minute spring game against another Power 5 school without any sort of parameters in place. They don’t happen now is because roughly 4 months removed from a full season, nobody wants to be evaluated on how their team stacks up in April or even worse, pick up a stupid injury in the process.
Let’s lay out some of those ground rules:
The actual scrimmage format
- 4, 10-minute quarters
- No kickoffs
- Quarterbacks are 2-hand touch
- 30 snaps max for all players
- 4th quarter is 7-on-7
- A “restricted” list of 5 players per team
I should explain that last one first. What do I mean by a “restricted” list?
Hypothetically speaking, let’s say it’s Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M. Each head coach can pick 5 players on the opposing team who cannot suit up for the spring scrimmage. Don’t want to get shredded by that preseason All-American quarterback? Put him on the restricted list. Don’t want to worry about your offense facing that bruising linebacker? Put him on the restricted list.
Like I said, each opposing coach gets to pick 5 guys. It’s a built in way of watering down some of the natural competitiveness while eliminating injury risk for those key players. It also gives coaches a bit of leeway if fans are mad that their team loses a scrimmage. It’s pretty easy to fall back on “well, we didn’t have our 5 best players out there.”
By having the opposing coach come up with the restricted list, it de-incentivizes any sort of potential duping. It doesn’t really benefit the opposing coach to put 5 walk-ons on the restricted list because then that increases the likelihood that his own team gets beat.
Make sense? OK, let’s move along.
I initially toyed with the idea of something else. No 1st quarter players could play in the 4th quarter so that you didn’t have 1st string guys going all out for an April game. In theory? Not so bad, but then I realized there’s a pretty easy way to wiggle out of that. You can just put all the starters into the game in the second quarter. So instead, I thought a max snap count would be best. You could do 30 snaps as a max per player. It would prevent 1 team from playing its 1st-stringers for an entire game.
You can find people who can track this who aren’t the referees. Lord knows these teams have enough analysts and whatnot that you could even have the opposing team track this to keep everyone honest.
And again, it’s still a spring game. No need to turn this into the Sugar Bowl.
That’s another reason you could turn it into 7-on-7 in the 4th quarter. It would allow coaches on both sides to focus in on the passing game and see how their teams are responding to that. Are they covering in space? Is the quarterback going through his progressions? Are receivers getting separation?
You also make sure you get your linemen off the field in due time to avoid unnecessary injuries while giving the fans something entertaining to close out the day. Remember, quarterbacks are already 2-hand touch. You can see how they handle pressure in the first 3 quarters and then see how well they keep their eyes downfield and make plays in winning time.
Is this a perfect idea? Probably not. The paranoia of coaches to not want to reveal any sort of schematic works in progress is always there, and no coach wants to be criticized for not having his team ready to play for a scrimmage in April. That’s not what they get paid for.
But at the same time, you could simulate some of those competitive elements while seeing how your team stacks up to comparable competition. Sam Pittman has fans watching practices because he wants to see how his players perform in that atmosphere. It’s a great idea. The competitive juices get flowing in a different way when you have a stage. It’s a different way to evaluate the roster, which is obviously an integral part of why spring games exist in the first place.
Having said that, I’m not sure what the incentive is to have Power 5 teams host scrimmages against FCS schools who have rosters full of players who would love nothing more than to make a big time play on some preseason all-conference selection. If you’re going to have any sort of scrimmage, both parties need to have a mutual understanding of the benefits and risks.
Of course, at the root of all of this from my perspective is to create a more entertaining experience to break up an 8-month offseason. Obviously. Think of how much we’d look forward to August if we got Power 5 teams scrimmaging against one another. We could have a rotating schedule with alternating home and road sites. You could spread it out over 3 different Saturdays in April, which should give teams enough flexibility in the likely event that they’re on different academic calendars.
With all of these conferences now boasting their own TV networks, there’s no shortage of programming options. Those are much more appealing than airing replays of some random game from a couple of years ago.
Would it take a lot of work to settle on these logistics? Absolutely. Some might look at that aspect alone and say it isn’t worth it. These are just scrimmages. Why blow up the system when it’s not really a problem?
For Gundy, it is. He cited that Oklahoma State hasn’t been able to have spring games recently because of those depth issues.
“So what happens is, when we get into the spring game on most years, we don’t have enough depth to have a real good spring game,” Gundy added. “So the reason we haven’t had one in a while is because I think it’s not favorable for the fans, because we don’t have enough depth, and then you can’t function.
“If you were to play a game against Arkansas or Nebraska or A&M or somebody, and practice game, you could get really quality work. So I would be for that, in just short notice without thinking through it.”
I would also be for it, in just short notice with thinking through it a little bit.