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The Perfect Spring Game

After this past weekend, many Michigan fans were up in arms over the comparatively festive spring game atmospheres at rival schools (Notre Dame, Ohio State, and even Michigan State) as compared to the less than 5,000 fans who took in Michigan's final spring scrimmage at a nearby high school. For the future, I would love to see a better spring game.

Why not this year? There were tons of extenuating circumstances (pretty much all out of Rodriguez's control) that prevented a spring game from happening. Most of them will not be present, at least to their current magnitude, next year.
  • Construction in the Big House. Even if they weren't going to have a legitimate game this year because of other circumstances, they probably would have still invited fans to come to a practice in the Big House had it been available. Next year, the magnitude of construction won't be as great (there is literally no East Concourse anymore, just steps that lead to a cliff - photo credit to UMGoBlue.com), and they'll hopefully be able to use the Big House for the game, even though construction won't be completed.
  • Installing a new system. This year, Coach Rodriguez and his coaches were installing completely new offensive and defensive schemes, which is something that they probably won't be doing again in their time at Michigan. Even upperclassmen are learning something completely new, which won't be the case in future years.
  • Playing catch-up. On top of a completely new system to teach the players, Michigan's new coaches had other areas in which they were playing catch-up as well. They had to gain back ground on the 2008 recruiting class, start anew for the 2009 class, get to know each other (along with terminology and schemes in some cases), buy houses, and integrate themselves into the community in Ann Arbor. When they don't have all these things to make up ground, they'll be able to teach more effectively in the spring, and plan for a spring game.
  • Rodriguez had other things to worry about. Including his lawsuit, which he has a stake in, regardless of the fact that his lawyers are doing all the actual legwork.
Is it likely we'll see one in the future? Yes. Spring games give media exposure which is good in almost every way. It certainly helps with recruiting. Also helping with recruiting is being able to invite tons of top prospects to the game, and show them an exciting atmosphere. Also, Rich Rodriguez has had one in the past at West Virginia. Almost no school this day can sustain a great program without some form of popular spring game.

So what makes a great spring game? Several factors have to come together to make a spring game truly great. The event must be about not only the game, but a carnival-like atmosphere around it.
  • First, the game must be entertaining. This means 1st team offense v. 1st team defense, backups v. backups on two teams, with standard timing, scoring, etc. No "offense v. defense" games with complicated and weird scoring systems that nobody can remember (much less decipher in some instances). If you don't want to do special teams for the sake of avoiding injuries, they can be left out or limited.
  • Inviting recruits is also important. Even if many of them can't come, letting them know that you are thinking about them (a la a Pete Carroll text message) is important to prospects, especially those who won't get an offer, but still want to feel like BMOCs. This is also big for keeping in-state coaches happy.
  • Media coverage. I wouldn't be surprised if BTN has exclusive rights to all spring coverage of conference schools, which hurts somewhat (it means no GameDay, and no national coverage on basic cable unless the network gets picked up by more carriers), but at least it is something. The game should be on live television, presented exactly as though it is a real game.
  • Have other important people there. Invite back every football alum who is or has been in the NFL (photo of Lamarr Woodley, Pierre Woods, and ? thanks to MVictors.com). Invite other prominent Michigan grads (Lucy Liu, Michael Phelps, Steve M. Ross) to come as well, and make the whole thing into an event. The famous people can even come together and coach the teams.
  • Band, cheerleaders, alumni cheerleaders, etc. Make it a clone of a real game.
  • Have other events around the game, like Ohio State (Lacrosse game in the 'Shoe) or Florida (sprints between students and players).
  • Not sure if this is allowed per NCAA rules, but invite signed recruits to the game, and introduce them to the fans over the loudspeaker. That lets future recruits know how important they are to the program, and also helps fans know who will be on future teams.
  • Advertise the game more. Statewide, via direct-mail lists, alumni associations, etc. Get fans in the seats.
  • Have the parking lots open for tailgating, just like any other game.
Take a lesson from Don Canham, Mr. Martin (and Mr. Rodriguez) and advertise the event and the program, not just the game itself. Having a big spring game can only help the program achieve long-term success.

Have any other ideas? Drop them in the comments.

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“The Perfect Spring Game”

  1. Blogger Charles Says:

    First off, what other event could the athletic department possibly schedule in the big house around the spring game. Secondly, isn't it mostly students, obsessive fans, and parents who go to the spring game. Third, it's spring scrimmage, it's not that big of a deal.

  2. Anonymous Nate Says:

    Chuck: This post wasn't about what the spring game generally is, it's what it could be. It'd be GOOD to have it be a big deal and these are ways to make it so.

    Good post. What about inviting high school coaches of potential recruits?

  3. Anonymous Obes Says:

    the internets are goin crazy over kevin newsome and his supposed verbal to Michigan this past monday. what have you heard?

  4. Anonymous formerlyanonymous Says:

    Having gone to Blue-White Weekend in Penn State this year, spring games can really blow up. There were people jockeying for tailgate positions at 7am. Several thousand people were in attendance. It really turns into a second homecoming in the Spring. Campus groups set up large events to welcome back their alumni. The tailgates are massive. Having South Campus be the athletic campus, it doesn't just have to be games in the Big House, but having baseball, softball, and lacrosse all have home games that weekend could be big. I skipped the actual scrimmage (not caring about PSU football), but I was able to watch a double header at PSU's baseball park. PSU has made a huge push last weekend to jump from tied for last to third in the Big10, plus their stadium is brand new and kicks ass.

    All it will take is enough student groups and alumni association push to really get things going.

  5. Anonymous DetUMICH Says:

    Make the football alumni reunion that weekend. Have an alumni coaching staff for each side--Braylon Edwards and Mike Hart coach opposing teams.

    Student involvement, ala the sprints between the players would be cool. More football involved though, maybe a mock overtime period with the team qbs playing flag football with non-team student receivers/linemen/runningbacks.

    Put something trivial but fun on the line--I think MSU had a steak dinner somewhere on the line for their game.

    It may sound like gimmicks, but its all recruiting and marketing--Martin should be well aware of the second part as a businessman.

  6. Blogger Tim Says:

    Charlie - note the examples that I gave of other possible events in the Big House (i.e. Ohio State holding a lacrosse game). Also, do you watch TV? Florida's spring game was on ESPN, which gave them great exposure, created excitement around the program, and generally was very good for the school and the football team. Sure ours is just a spring scrimmage now, but that's not what it has to be.

  7. Blogger Tim Says:

    Obes,

    Let's just say I have a post written that is just waiting to go live.

  8. Anonymous Anonymous Says:

    If the weather had been good, Ohio State would have had 100,000 fans for this year's spring game. Even in the rain, they had over 50,000. We need to be competitive and try to set national spring game record.