Football is a fall sport. As the summer cools, the air itself seems to change. And, to me, that fall air always smells like football. The games are then played for the next few months until, bleeding through the winter holidays, the championships are played and the final tallies are taken on another season gone by. Still in winter, coaches, players and fans all turn their eyes back to the hope of a new season, the next game: the fall.
Just a few more months...
Except that there’s actually some odd little mini-training long before the real one: spring practice. Colleges all have it — it’s considered a must, an outbreak of actual football bracketed by long, grueling months of winter conditioning — and even most high schools now have it. Urban Meyer, speaking to high school coaches
, lamented that Ohio doesn’t allow spring practice for high schoolers and vowed to do his part to change that. Indeed, the importance of spring practice is questioned by almost no one, and it’s obvious to see why: In a world of time limitations on practices, any
practice — whenever it is — is good practice. But why is it for one little block in the spring?
In the NFL, the summer months are taken up with “mini-camps” and “OTAs” (“organized team activities”), where the basics in terms of schematics are installed and technique is addressed in relative leisure, before the intense sprint of fall camp and the season begin. Some of that timing is because, with free agency and the NFL draft, teams often aren’t quite sure what their rosters will look like until around the summer, but that’s not altogether different than in college. True freshman are increasingly important to the success of even top flight college teams, and they tend to arrive on campus around June. It may have something to do with the idea that most universities break their academic calendar years into semesters, but (a) players “work on football” in the form of conditioning year round and (b) almost all of them spend the summer term on campus as well. You don’t hear about too many star college players who spend the summer before their senior years at an internship with Proctor & Gamble or studying abroad in Barcelona. And in high school there are definitely oversight issues with allowing practices in the summer, but fall camp itself begins before the fall school year begins and presumably most of the high school kids stay local.
So there is something odd and maybe even anachronistic about “spring practice.” Obviously, no coach is ever going to vote against less practice, but why spring? And, given that it is in the spring, how important is it to player development?
In 1971, Texas sports information director Jones Ramsey famously said: “There are only two sports in Texas: football and spring football.” And it’s clear that this phenomenon has spread across the country, as fans pack in to see their team’s spring game — filling the stadium to watch practice — encouraged by hope. Spring practice is disconnected enough from both the prior season and the following one to exist only in a world of optimism: Everything is possible.