Friend of the blog and bylaw wizard John Infante recently analyzed a semi-serious pitch for year round football. The essentials? Some sort of underclassmen only football season during the spring. Younger players would get a chance to get game situation reps that they might have to wait two or more seasons for, younger coaches will get more hands on playcalling and management experience, and the insatiable lust for more football from us fans might be whetted a bit. On the surface, seems like a no-brainer right? JV football works for high school, after all.
JV sports at the D1 college level isn't a totally alien idea. Prior to 1972, freshman weren't eligible for varsity play, so many universities established freshman teams. While most colleges cut their extra teams after the NCAA changed the rules allowing all underclassmen to play at the highest levels, some colleges didn't, most notably the North Carolina JV Men's Basketball Team, who plays D3 schools and military academies. A smattering of Ivy League schools or other small colleges continue to host B teams as well, giving the same benefits: extra experience for kids and staff.
Running a JV or Freshman football team for even a low-level, let alone major conference FBS team would be a substantially larger logistical project than a 12 man basketball team. Having to expand scholarship rosters, dealing with Title IX requirements, the increased physical load on players, and the risk of bad publicity (The Atlantic is already drafting their WHERE ARE OUR PRIORITIES article as you read this) all make the idea likely nothing more than a pipe dream.
But let's say we could wave a wand and make all of those problems vanish. Suddenly, there are no regulatory conflicts, and the sales from Gordon Gee's new standup comedy albums have left Ohio State flush with more cash than they could possibly know what to do with. Would this be a good thing?
Infante raises a particularly good point that will probably be brought up multiple times as the playoff inevitably grows from four to something else:
Even the insatiable thirst of fans for more football is an assumption that must be questioned. Just because teams can sell out a single spring scrimmage does not mean they will be able to draw large enough crowds to a full slate of junior varsity games. Part of the appeal for football fans is the short, intense season, rather than the long slog and daily grind of baseball, basketball, hockey, or soccer. A spring season with cheaper tickets could even draw some people away from the main attraction, as they get their live game fix at bargain basement prices during the spring and watch on TV during the fall.
This is an important point. How much of the allure of college football is irrevocably tied to the small supply of games? Even people who love baseball and basketball acknowledge that the seasons can be a bit of a grind. It's difficult to muster a blistering amount of emotional energy for those Padres/Pirates series in mid July. Given that we'd be looking assuredly a lower quality of football, likely with some depth issues (especially for smaller colleges), would sloppier spring ball damage our appetite for the real thing? Is a saturation point for football even possible? My gut says it is.
There are also legitimate concerns about player safety, especially as more concussion-research comes out, or just general injury concerns. Why risk running your strong underclassmen out for games that "don't matter", and risk injury for the real season, robbing your depth?
Infante does propose an interesting counter-proposal though:
If the NFL ever did something similar, with say a spring U23 league, it would suck almost all the wind out the spring college football sails. The diehard college football fans who are casual (at best) NFL fans would still be interested. But if the NFL became a year-round venture like college football would be, a big portion of the fans of both will have to choose. And in that case the smart money is always on the NFL to get the bulk of that group.
Would any of you guys watch this? What if it was say, a U24 or U25? I think I would. I'm enough of a basketball die-hard that I watch parts of the Las Vegas Summer League for the NBA, and the quality of play is probably somewhat similar...some rookies and younger players, some journeymen, and some guys from colleges that sound more like law firms than actual universities (Hardin-Simmons? Like THAT'S a real college....). That might be good compromise to fill a football void, but with an appreciably different enough product from college football that it wouldn't pose a real risk to what we love and hold so dear.
What do you think? Do you think there is a way for actual intercollegiate spring football to be realistic? Would you want it? Would you watch an NFL U24 squad?