Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Updated: April 17, 4:19 PM ET
Spring's Got Game Now (continued)
Special to ESPN SportsTravel
• Photo gallery: College football spring games
"The spring game is like when pitchers and catchers report," said Lenn Robbins, a longtime football writer for the New York Post.
"Every team believes this will be the year, whether it be a winning season, a bowl, a league title, a national championship. They get to see some of the prep guys that have already enrolled
hope springs eternal.
"Having said that, what happened last spring at Alabama was surreal even by SEC standards."
Still, you can bet other schools will attempt to eclipse the precedent set by Alabama, and this year's version of the spring fanfare enjoyed in Tuscaloosa appears to be found in Lincoln.
The Cornhuskers have sold out an NCAA-record 289 consecutive games dating to 1962, and Saturday's spring game will keep with tradition. The Red-White Game has been declared a sellout for coach Bo Pelini's debut.
Attendance should surpass Nebraska's spring-game record of 63,416, set in 2005. (Wire reports indicated 65,000 ducats were made available to the public, while 16,000 additional seats were held back for students and faculty, former players, prospective recruits and other guests, and kids who promise to take the "Drug-Free Pledge" on the field at halftime.)
And whereas Alabama fans got in for free, Nebraska charges up to $10 per ticket. One broker claims he's getting $95 per seat for the sold-out Cornhuskers game, according to wire reports; on Web sites, some general admission tickets are going for $40, and club seats are fetching up to $150.
Ohio State hopes not only to surpass its spring football game record crowd of 75,301 set last year but also to establish attendance records in four sports during its Scarlet and Gray Days this Friday through Sunday.
The long weekend celebration begins with a Friday baseball game against Purdue, continues with men's lacrosse and the intrasquad football game Saturday and concludes with a softball game Sunday. (The Buckeyes have enjoyed 41 consecutive regular-season home games with crowds topping 100,000.)
Penn State is expecting another huge crowd for its Blue-White Game on Saturday. As in previous years, there is no admission or parking fee for the Blue-White Game, which last year attracted a record crowd of 71,000.
But not every school offers free admission and parking. Tickets to Notre Dame's 79th Blue-Gold game on Saturday are $12 apiece. For an additional $88, fans can get special press box seating, a game program and the same press box lunch served to the media.
Kansas State turned to a spring fan fest atmosphere two years ago after coach Ron Prince was hired. The scrimmage-game weekend included a carnival, barbecuing and tailgating contests and baseball games geared toward family and fun, said Kenny Lannou, Wildcats sports information director. K-State had more than 32,000 in attendance two seasons ago.
WAC commissioner Benson said attendance increases are based on how schools approach spring football.
"Some look at it as strictly preparation and teaching the game. Those programs have elected to stay by the original purpose of spring football and use it as instruction," Benson said.
"Then there are others who promote the product and motivate season-ticket holders. They'll invite recruits to the game and use the spring game as a marketing tool."
Indeed, Alabama coach Nick Saban said the incredible turnout last spring was a key factor in his team being ranked No. 1 in recruiting by at least three national authorities this February.
Yes, spring ball piques a huge interest among fans who have endured several months without being able to witness their cherished sport.
"At South Carolina, college football is the hot topic of discussion 365 days a year," said Steve Fink, sports information director for the Gamecocks. "People love the spring game because it gives them their first glimpse of next year's team.
"They want to see how much bigger and faster the returning players are, and they are curious to see how the younger players have progressed after an offseason in the weight room."
And spring ball continues to evolve; some even feel opposing schools will soon face off against each other.
"I would think that in the not-too-distant future, the NCAA will allow scrimmages between schools, as they allow in the spring with soccer and volleyball," said David Plati, Colorado's sports information director.
"I think that would help generate revenue at schools that do not draw enough people now to charge admission; other schools can charge as little as $5 or $10 a person and cover the cost of an entire non-revenue sport."
But Benson, who also is on the board of directors for NCAA Football, said he can't foresee a day when rival schools scrimmage in spring. Benson said that would provide fuel to those who already oppose spring games and the overemphasis on athletics over academics.
"That defeats the whole purpose," Benson said. "Then it'll no longer be a spring game, but a regular-season game."
Some would say that line already has been blurred, if not crossed.
Tony Guadagnoli, a freelance writer from western Washington, says experiencing the atmosphere on college football Saturdays, including that at spring scrimmage games, is one of life's great, simple pleasures.