Steve Spurrier enjoyed some fun February, March and April weekends in 2019 when he led the Orlando Apollos of the upstart Alliance of American Football to a 7-1 record. Only to have the league fold.
The Head Ball Coach fared better in the fall as a national championship-winning coach at Florida and while guiding South Carolina to its most glorious stretch of football: three 11-2 seasons in a row, four straight bowl victories and a 5-0 stretch against Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers.
“That time of year,” Spurrier told Paul Finebaum on Wednesday, “is for basketball.”
“I think it would be very difficult,” he said Wednesday when asked about the viability of the 2021 spring season path the Big Ten, Pac-12 and other conferences intend to pursue after opting out of their fall schedules because of coronavirus concerns.
Leaving autumn leaves doesn’t make sense or dollars for Power Five college football conferences except in an emergency. But a move to spring football gets more logical by the day for all FCS programs, including state schools The Citadel, Charleston Southern, S.C. State, Furman and Wofford.
A permanent move.
The Citadel and Charleston Southern will try to play some fall non-conference games even after the Southern Conference and Big South Conference decided this week to join 10 other FCS leagues and postpone conference football schedules until spring.
But a seismic summer shift of Power Five leagues into conference-only or “plus-one” schedule models isn’t just a COVID-19 health adjustment; it’s the unofficial beginning of a long-anticipated break that will end up with a Power Five power grab of the college athletics cash pie sooner than later.
That will mean no more “money” games for FCS teams visiting Power Five schools. The major conference programs, trying to recover from 2020 shortfalls, will pack future schedules with more conference-only or showcase non-conference games and leave FCS schools to fill holes in their calendars and budgets.
In the cracked rear-view mirror, a possible 2020 Citadel-Clemson game that slips through the cracks only because the SEC won’t let South Carolina into Death Valley is going to look like a sputtering Ford Pinto.
This isn’t about the 2020-2021 academic year, hopefully a once-a-century outlier.
It’s not about a temporary FCS fix.
It’s about the long run.
Time for a bold move.
By switching to spring football, FCS teams can have football-starved audiences all to themselves on spring Saturdays.
Waiting for FBS games on future FCS schedules is like standing at the station hoping train travel gets popular again.
The cons: NFL stuff
Sure, there are drawbacks to spring football.
Among the cons are the pros: they will have already finished with their NFL draft evaluations as an FCS spring season gets into full tilt. It will get more difficult to recruit NFL-prospect type talent.
But how many pro prospects do FCS recruiters target? A few, maybe.
If your favorite program is fortunate enough to attract a late-bloomer that might bolt early to prepare for the NFL draft, that’s a good problem to have. Right?
Conflicts with basketball and baseball will require creative scheduling, for sure. But it won’t be hard for conferences to juggle schedules so that each campus is hosting a football game or a basketball game on alternate Saturdays.
The loss of the money games with FBS opponents is by far the biggest concern; those checks not only help fund football but other FBS programs. The key here is Power Five recognition that FCS football, whenever it’s played, boosts college football popularity by growing the game – even more so with spring football – and that some kind of revenue trickle-down system is a good investment.
The pros: FCS ‘Gameday’
Take a look at those upcoming non-conference schedules …
2020 at Clemson (maybe)
2024 at Clemson
2025 at Ole Miss
2021 at UGA
2022 at N.C. State
2023 at Vanderbilt
2026 at Clemson
2021 at Clemson
2021 at North Carolina
2022 at Virginia Tech and South Carolina
2023 at Clemson
2027 at Clemson
2021 at N.C. State
2022 at Clemson
2023 at South Carolina
2024 at Ole Miss
2025 at Clemson
Enjoy the view.
Or the mirage.
FBS teams are about to swim out of red coronarvirus ink and into slates too full of expanded TV-friendly conference schedules, spicy rivalry games and untapped intersectional clashes to allow for FCS opponents that don’t drive ratings.
Such added attractions will draw interest away from the FCS games in the fall.
Spring, however, can mean ESPN GameDay (or something like it) on FCS campuses, weeknight showcase games and unattached fans dropping in from living rooms all over the country for anything football.
Sustainability blooms brighter with April Madness than Thanksgiving leftovers.
And excellent timing with potential guinea pigs ready to test spring waters from the Pac-12 and Big Ten to the Big South.
College football history is full of major transitions.
The Citadel and Furman once played in the same Southern Conference as South Carolina and Clemson, though that was before Spurrier and Swinney were coaching the Gamecocks and Tigers.
But having The Head Ball Coach and Dabo appear on a GameDay set before a spring Citadel-Charleston Southern game might be fun.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff