Notre Dame’s spring program has morphed from a standard three weeks of practice and a standard scrimmage to a two-month staggered schedule concluding with players running plays on a field under a scoring system that changes every year.
Let the record show I certainly don’t fault them for it — seems like plenty of other programs are changing how they do things in the offseason, and for something as relatively meaningless as a controlled scrimmage, it’s inevitable things can and will be done differently.
In fact, I’ll take it a step further: Other than the practice time, which has obvious value, do we have to have the Blue-Gold Game at all? Has the need, such as it is, diminished to the point of making it irrelevant? I can think of a couple reasons why it would.
First, changes in the game have heightened the stakes for what happens any time the team takes the field. Players, like Leon, are getting laaaaaarger and moving faster, and the opportunities for injury have increased apace. A smart football program would alter events that don’t count to try and mitigate effects on those that do, which is what Notre Dame already is doing. I doubt any Notre Dame fan would want to see a quality player miss a game against Michigan so he could make a tackle against a teammate.
More significant to me, though, is the ubiquity of the sport in the Internet age. College football is now a 12-months-a-year thing, not only for the coaches and players, but for the fans as well, so maybe it isn’t as necessary to get the April fix.
In the old days, you needed spring football to get a look at the team in the eight months between the bowl game and the start of the season (insert snark here). Now, those who want it can get up-to-the-hour updates on recruiting visits and videos of what happened in practice. Issues in the classroom and the weight room are bouncing off satellites and onto your eyeballs almost as they happen, not weeks later when the monthly fan mag arrives in the mailbox. Heck, the Blue-Gold game is televised now, so you don’t even need to go to South Bend to see it.
This new year-round nature of things can be exhausting for a fan, so I can imagine the toll it takes on players and coaches. Waiting for the NCAA to do something official to help them find mental rest probably is a fool’s errand, so I’d have no problem with Notre Dame deciding to throttle back the information spigot in the interest of slowing things down a little.
Granted, there are other concerns, such as the tertiary groups who benefit from the game. The St. Joe Valley ND club has used the event for years to bolster their scholarship fund, which certainly is a worthwhile cause. Local businesses reap the benefits of the fans who day-trip in — I’d like to believe no one is spending money on airfare and hotel rooms to watch a scrimmage — so they would be affected as well.
I’d like to think, though, there are other ways to help those folks without requiring a dog-and-pony show whose day may have come and gone. As with so many things, there has to be a way.
Unless I’m nuts.