Have you ever heard an idea that was so crazy it might just work? That’s what happened to me this week when I heard a sound bite from SMU head football coach June Jones.
We already have spring football practice on college campuses all over the nation, but why not actually have a spring football season?
“I’ll go ahead and say it right now,” Jones said in an interview with WDEA-AM, “I think the have-nots should go ahead and move to the spring just like the USFL did. I think that there’s an opportunity to do a complete other side of that division, and I think that if we don’t think that way as a group of have-nots, we’re going to get left behind.”
After thinking about it, this could work.
Jones has a point. With the first-ever college football playoff, the chances of a Conference USA, American Athletic Conference or any other mid-major team getting in is low.
In fact, not every Power-5 conference is even guaranteed a spot under this playoff.
So take your pick from last year: Auburn, Baylor, Florida State, Michigan State and Stanford. One of those will be left out and play in a bowl game that is more meaningless now than it was in the Bowl Championship Series era. Sure the playoff might expand to eight teams. But, even then, it would still be hard for a school like Central Florida or North Texas to jump a second Power 5 school like Alabama or Oklahoma from getting into a playoff spot. So in the end what do the Hear of Dallas, Autozone or Chik-fil-a Bowl really mean? Nothing outside of money grab and chances for fans to take a trip.
At least with Jones’ way, fans can travel to places like Nashville and Annapolis, Md. in the spring and early summer instead of in December.
Jones has seen spring football work before as a coach on the Houston Gamblers of the USFL. That league played in the spring and it’s biggest mistake was moving its season to the fall to compete directly with the NFL.
And if the teams in the non-Power 5 conferences can play things out right and find a good television partner, this will work because there is a market for it.
Begin the season in March to give football fans a bit of a break after the Super Bowl, take a bye week or schedule Friday night games during the Final Four, end the regular season in May and have your bowls or playoff in June.
The only obstacles are figuring out a new recruiting schedule and figuring out a way to not diminish March Madness.
According to a Harris Poll released last month, football is still king. The poll found that 35 percent of respondents said pro football was their favorite sport, followed by Major League Baseball at 14 percent and college football at 11 percent.
Why not take your brand where every regular season game counts and go up against a sport that has a 162-game regular season?
Spring college football could be a good rating grab for ESPN with their multi-channel platform.
Take for example the NCAA Baseball Tournament. Roughly 52 million people watched the 62 tournament games and an average of 1.1 million watched the College World Series.
That number is beaten by the 2.2 million people who watched the Poinsettia Bowl between Utah State and Northern Illinois and the 1.4 million who watched the Famous Idaho Bowl between San Diego State and Buffalo.
Games like that draw some big crowds and advertisers should take notice. A good enough television deal spread across mid-major conferences would also help make up the difference that result from lost “paycheck” games.
Now, let’s compare the competition for spring football.
The NBA Finals had an average rating of 9.3, meaning 15.5 million people watched the games this year. But the NBA typically schedules those finals games on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays so any spring football games would not go head-to-head with the finals.
The other league spring football would compete with is the NHL, but their ratings aren’t anything to write home about.
The NCAA already has an indoor and outdoor track season. Why not add spring football to that mix?