Spring football is not a great option. At best, it would be weird. At worst, it could increase short-term and long-term injuries.
But as the coronavirus pandemic rages on with no end in sight, it is, if nothing else, a possibility worth continued exploration.
The obvious drawback is the wear and tear on the bodies of unpaid amateurs. It’s a justifiable concern, and it’s one Purdue coach Jeff Brohm took into account when he released a proposal for spring football last week shortly after the Big Ten postponed its fall season.
Brohm’s plan calls for an eight-game spring season plus a playoff. Even with an abbreviated fall season following that — Brohm proposes 10 regular-season games plus a playoff — athletes could be playing 23 games in a 10-month stretch. That’s a lot. One shredded knee in March could cause a receiver to miss two seasons, not just one.
But there are things coaches could do to help mitigate the risks. Brohm calls for only one padded practice per week during the spring and fall seasons, and no spring ball at all in 2022. Those ideas help.
Longtime college writer Jon Wilner, who now authors a Pac-12 newsletter, has a plan that calls for every player to sit out two games to reduce contact. It’s not ideal, but nothing about the situation is ideal.
And that leads to the best argument in favor of a spring season: Some football is better than no football.
It would be better for the players who want to compete. Those who don’t want to, for any reason, should be able to opt out without fear of retribution and without losing their scholarship or a year of eligibility. But the ones who want to play? It would be better than nothing and give them something to look forward to.
It would be better for the athletic departments. Although safety is the most important factor, the financial impact of 19 months without football cannot and should not be ignored. Big Ten and Pac-12 schools estimate they’re going to lose upward of $50 million without a fall season. That means lost paychecks, lost jobs and potentially lost sports. A spring season would help fix the looming budget crisis.
And it would be better for fans. They would get more games to watch and the morale boost that comes with cheering on their teams. As a bonus, if a safe coronavirus vaccine comes quickly enough, more fans might be able to attend games in person by spring (which would add revenue for programs, too).
All this is predicated on the assumption that the country as a whole and campuses individually wouldn’t be facing the coronavirus problems they are today. Maybe we’ll have more answers by spring. Or we’ll have a proven, reliable vaccine. Or society will have taken the virus seriously enough by then to where the number of cases will have dwindled.
If things aren’t better by January or March, then a spring season would be a futile endeavor. But if the worst of the pandemic is behind us by then? Then it would be an opportunity worth exploring.
Contact Matt Baker at email@example.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.