Coaches split on exhibition games for Non-FBS schools

Photo by Dwain Linden/MSU Athletics | Edit by DCTF

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For years, some college football coaches have expressed a desire to conclude spring practice with a scrimmage against an opponent. Last month, Auburn coach Hugh Freeze brought the topic back into the national spotlight by voicing his support for inter-squad scrimmages and expressed his support for using proceeds from the event to benefit charities.

Power 5 coaches nationwide were asked their opinion on Freeze’s idea. So naturally, reporters across the country began asking FBS coaches across the country to weigh in with their views. Colorado coach Deion Sanders and UAB coach Trent Dilfer were immediately in favor of an inter-squad scrimmage, while Alabama coach Nick Saban said the idea is worth exploring further.

While ending the spring with an exhibition game against an opponent could work with relative ease for most FBS institutions, coaches across the Non-FBS landscape in Texas are split on the idea. 

“No way I’d be in favor of playing someone else outside of the season,” one Division II coach said. “It wouldn’t make sense for us to allow our opponents to see our personnel before the season begins, especially with our rosters in flux due to the transfer portal.”

Most coaches admit the transfer portal could delay the approval of exhibition contests.

“It’s a roll of the dice. If you have a player that has a great game, then he may get pressure to join the portal and play in College Station,” one FCS coach said. “I think it should be left to each school to choose whether to participate in a spring scrimmage. I’d probably try to find someone to play on the East or West Coast who would pay us. We could make a little revenue and have an opportunity to see a different part of the United States and experience some life lessons.”

“I’d be all for it. It’s tough playing against each other all spring and again in the spring game,” another FCS coach said. “You could blow it up into a football recruiting event or just have a practice against another team. I think you’d have fewer injuries because you’ve cut the number of snaps a lot of guys play in half.”

Most supporters of scrimmages point to the fact that the chance of an injury to one of their players would be reduced by playing an opponent.

“If we have 90 plays and have 22 of our players on the field for all of those snaps, you have a greater chance of getting your guys hurt,” one coach said. “If we play someone else, we only have 11 guys on the field that could get injured on a play.”

Other coaches are leery of scrimmaging an opponent because they would have less control of the environment during the game, which they believe could lead to more injuries.

“It sounds great to have a scrimmage as they do in baseball and basketball,” one coach said. “But those sports aren’t football. They’re not full-contact sports. So we need to do what’s best for the athletes.”

Coaches that support playing an opponent believe that most teams would hold out some of their best players while others would eliminate any special teams plays to reduce the risk of injuries.

“We’d hold out our best players just like we do now. Our best players didn’t play a snap in the spring game last year,” one coach said. “A spring game is about getting reps and seeing some guys play that still need to prove themselves at this level.”

“We’d have no need to let special teams play,” another coach said. “We could put the ball at the 20-yard line and play. Then get some redzone work in, get on the bus, and go home.”

Another issue facing the viability of inter-squad scrimmages is money. Finances are more limited in the Non-FBS ranks, and one coach would not support an exhibition game if the money came from the program’s budget.

“I’m not in favor of adding things that will take away from the quality of life for our student-athletes. Money may not be an issue at the FBS schools, but there are a lot of universities like ours that have to be budget conscientious,” the coach said. “You’re talking about bus rentals, meals, and hotels. Who’s paying for that? Are you taking away nutrition or a staff position because that money was used for a scrimmage?”

One FCS coach said he’d prefer to see the NCAA allow teams an exhibition game before the start of the season, similar to a preseason game in the NFL. 

“I’d be more interested in having a scrimmage before the season starts that doesn’t count like in the NFL,” the coach said. “Most mistakes are made in Week 1 than any other week, and it would be nice to have an exhibition before you start the season as they have in basketball.”

The feeling from coaches around Texas is the push to incorporate exhibition games will continue to gain support and eventually become a reality. In contrast, other coaches wonder why the idea hasn’t been adopted.

“I hope they push it forward and get it done, but this has been talked about for years and still hasn’t happened yet,” one coach said. “Common sense ain’t all that common, Cory.”

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