There are two takeaways from Saturday’s spring game, which, by the way, ended in a 41-33 score. All that last-drive drama was probably manufactured by a manipulated scoreboard as a way to excite fans and focus players for one last memory before they all get sent off into 15 weeks of no football.
I don’t mind that, but it leads me to the first of the two takeaways — and if you were scoring at home, because most of you were apparently at home, that’s one more takeaway than the defense had Saturday:
What do you do with the spring game?
It’s a stale event, but it’s a necessity. I’m not even talking about the $60,000 or so the athletic department made between the tickets and the television contract from West Virginia Media or the $20,000 or so the WVU Children’s Hospital made. It’s a crucial recruiting day that’s the launch point for spring recruiting. It’s also a scrimmage that wraps up 15 practices and six weeks of getting to know the 2013 season. When you’re going to have as many new or elevated parts as WVU will, that’s not without value.
But it’s getting harder and harder to endorse this thing as an event and not just another day. The attendance figures are diving, as they are for football games, be they spring, fall or postseason, in general. This isn’t just a WVU thing. Coaches bemoan this occasion every year and they’re rarely ever happy at the end.
The reality here, as difficult as it may be to admit, is the spring game is not going to pack the stadium. Remember, they were gunning for 30,000 last year and 22,000 a year before and they actually had about 18,000 in 2008. There were roughly 8,000 in the stands Saturday.
Again, it’s a stale event, but I can’t help but think that WVU has allowed it to stagnate. For a group that’s kept fresh its uniforms and music and mottos and all the other accessories, it’s actually somewhat surprising the spring game hasn’t evolved. There’s no build for it. There’s no promise attached to it. There’s no what-might-I-miss? Perhaps most importantly, there may be no real way to enhance any of that.
This is Dana Holgorsen speaking about what he anticipated from the spring game on the eve of the game … last year:
“Something festive more than anything. I would challenge you to find one coach across the country that gets a kick out of the spring game. You got to do it. We want to do it for the fans. The players get a kick out of it, because they get to put their nice uniforms on, and they go out there in front of a bunch of people and try to make a play. It’s the end of spring, and you want to get out healthy. We want it to be festive, and we want everyone to kind of get a glimpse of the younger kids more than anything.”
The message didn’t change and that has to be a part of this. That’s Dana. We know that, but we also know that. It’s for the fans, but fans might listen and wonder what is possibly inviting about that.
There’s also something to be said about being surprised and, at the same time, curious today about the names Jordan Thompson, Dreamius Smith, Kevin White and Wendell Smallwood, the offensive stars of the spring game. They were off limits to the media in the spring.
The rhetoric might differ from keyboard to keyboard, but there’s a general point. I’m not one who thinks flowery features about some or all of them would add to the attendance at all, never mind significantly, but the treatment is the treatment and there’s an overarching feeling spring football happens behind closed doors — a necessary, competitive evil in today’s world — before you’re asked to come out and watch something you really don’t know anything about.
But, again, I don’t think access fixes anything. I really don’t know how to fix it. I don’t. Concerts before the game? Fireworks after it? Honorary general mangers with a draft televised by Tier 4? Celebrity coaches? Guest play-callers? Friday night lights? Probably not.
There has to be something apart from challenging fans or inviting true Mountaineers out, because that doesn’t play. It’s tricky, but it needs to be a treat for coaches, players, prospective players and fans.
We’ll get to the second takeaway a little later.