Clemson Football will play its Spring Game on April 15th, and fans are excited to see the new offense under offensive coordinator Garrett Riley.
The Tigers have scrimmaged a few times in practice, and most of the feedback has been fairly balanced. Coach Dabo Swinney commented:
"“Really competitive on both sides. Some good, some bad from both the offense and defense. A great way to go into Easter break this weekend.”"
A balance isn’t a terrible thing. Even though many fans would love to hear the offense is killing it on the field, that would simultaneously mean the defense wasn’t performing at a high level.
Some fans are frustrated by that dynamic of a spring game: it’s difficult to judge how well the team is playing when they are competing against themselves.
The discussion about modifying spring games has arisen again, and it’s not just among Clemson fans. Many nationally have been endorsing the possibility of schools playing exhibitions against other teams in the spring, instead of holding intrasquad exhibitions.
This isn’t an unheard-of practice in college sports. Baseball and softball both play other programs during their off-season practice routines. Basketball often plays exhibitions, such as when the Tiger men traveled to France this past August.
This argument has existed for a while, but it has gained momentum as spring games have become stock for cable and streaming broadcasters. While people enjoy watching any football content related to their favorite teams, many of them would prefer to see their team play a different program.
While that is a very valid reason to support football changing to an off-season practice model more similar to other NCAA sports, it isn’t necessarily a better choice for the team itself, especially a program like Clemson.
First, a game against another team still wouldn’t be competition. It would still be an exhibition, and fans might actually see less of what they want to see.
In an intrasquad scrimmage, the program can completely control the situation. They can split the team as they see fit and customize the circumstances to fit what they want to accomplish. When two separate programs play each other, they either have to agree to standard rules, or negotiate the terms of the game.
There would only be half as many snaps available in a two-team exhibition than there would be in an intrasquad scrimmage. As such, there would be fewer available snaps to give to the depth of the roster.
Its better for Clemson Football to scrimmage itself that to invite lesser competition to the Spring Game
When there is a position battle, coaches would likely give the contenders the bulk of the snaps, resulting in the reserves seeing far less action than in a regular spring scrimmage.
When the pecking order at a position is fairly clear, then starters and 2nd-stringers might only get a series or two. The staff would want to get the reserves on the field to see what they have lower on the depth chart.
Either way, someone will be getting far fewer snaps.
Lastly, it isn’t likely a team that is Clemson’s peer, like another Power Five program, will agree to go on the road to play their spring exhibition. A Group of Five team might be willing to do that for the right price, but it’s more likely that FCS teams would be the logical opponent.
At the risk of offending FCS programs, Clemson players would likely face better competition in an intrasquad scrimmage than in an exhibition against most FCS teams.
The debate about spring games will likely continue. As the landscape of college football changes, the variables influencing the structure of spring practices and games might lead to changes. For now, what’s best for the teams is to continue with the current spring game intrasquad scrimmage, even if it isn’t necessarily the most appealing product for all fans.