Sunday, August 16, 2009

More is less

Like most Americans, I'll consume all the football I can handle. I have to admit, though, that until Friday's comments from Rich Rodriguez, I had never thought about the possibility of preseason college football.
"If there was one rule I'd change in college football -- if they'd allow you to have a preseason game against somebody else ... no crowd or anything, just someone else to judge yourself a little bit better," he said.
That would be absolutely amazing, no question about it ... and it would also be incredibly stupid and impractical. I understand what he's getting at, basically just wanting some sort of measuring stick and preparation outside of intrasquad scrimmages, but I see the same problem here as with NFL preseason games: At a certain point, it becomes less important for your starters to get a few competitive snaps than to keep them healthy (or as healthy as possible) heading into the real games.

I suppose you could have the game a few weeks before the season to give your guys a little time to heal any wounds, but then you'd be doing it right at the beginning of fall practice. How would you get an accurate assessment of your team at that point?

Rodriguez also says that there would be "no crowd or anything," which would never happen in a million years. With athletic departments being what they are, is there any possible way that this wouldn't turn into another opportunity for ticket sales and a TV payout? RichRod even acknowledges the impossibility of an empty stadium about two sentences later:
Imagine the crowd we'd have at the Big House if we had somebody here and didn't charge them?
Considering that 60,000 turned out for the Michigan spring game -- and more have turned out at places like Ohio State and LSU -- there's little doubt that most big-time schools would fill the stadium. Fan support wouldn't be an issue.

Maybe I'm overstating the difference between a "scrimmage" and the regular practices -- having never participated in D-I football, I can't really say -- but I don't see how you could have a game that helped your team learn anything useful without putting the players in a situation where they'd be more likely to suffer an injury. You could limit the rules like they do in the Pro Bowl and the Army All-America Game, but then what do you gain?

No blitzing? Your quarterback isn't getting any work reading defenses or facing pressure, and your offensive line doesn't learn anything in pass protection that it couldn't in a regular practice. No hitting quarterbacks? Again, the QB doesn't have any real fear of pressure and gains no more than he would in an intrasquad scrimmage. No tackling? There'd be no point in having the defense take the field at all.

And I don't even want to think about the issue of scheduling, which would create a whole separate layer of problems. How do you work it out so everyone can have a game in the last two weeks of fall practice? And if it becomes similar to regular-season nonconference scheduling, where the little guys auction themselves off to the highest bidder, do the fans of those teams ever get to see a home scrimmage?

The idea, in theory, is a great one for the fans but a crappy one for the players, and it would be almost impossible to implement.

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