Rites of Spring
by Jim Alderson, 5/3/02
Now that TSLX #18 and that Bizarro- world football season is out of the way [and for those who were recoiled from their computer monitors in horror, let me tell you writing it was no picnic, either], thoughts return to the real world version of Tech football, and the recently-completed spring practice, as well as the rites of spring around other programs.
The Tech Spring Game, to me, again demonstrated the value of redshirting incoming freshmen, especially at the vital position of quarterback. Bryan Randall bore little resemblance to the scared kid we saw last year during his brief appearances. College football is not college basketball, where the influences of the Nike camps and summer AAU leagues have kids moving along at roughly the same rate as Eastern European female gymnasts. The differences in levels of play between high school and college football are much greater than they are in basketball, and new players need time to adjust. I again would support an NCAA rule outlawing freshman eligibility in football; let them sit out a year to adjust both to college and college football, then have four years to play.
The Spring Game at Tech is about tailgating, and it seemed to me that the 26k got their money’s worth. The other programs around our area didn’t draw quite so well, and it was interesting to note some of the devices associated with the Spring Game. From the BE’s Death Row Division, Temple coach Bobby Wallace held the Owls’ game on a grassy field where Temple Stadium once stood. The Owls played there from 1895 until it was condemned in 1978, its condemnation beating that of the Temple football team by a couple of decades. The old stadium fell, or was torn down, but the field remains, along with a tree in one end zone under which Wallace sat during the game making calls to inquire about any other openings in the RUTS Belt Conference. That there were no grandstands for fans to sit didn’t seem to bother anybody, or even be noticed; this is Temple, after all. Given the reluctance of the Philadelphia Eagles to allow the Owls to play in their new digs and the harsh financial realities that are going to lay waste to I-AA football, perhaps this will be an ideal place for Temple to play by 2005 when they are fielding a club team.
Around the Hanging- Around Division of the Big East, Greg Schiano of Rutgers pronounced himself “satisfied” with the state of the Dorks and a schedule that opens with Villanova, Buffalo and Army, proof that Schiano will indeed produce a winner at RUTSgers, at least for a few weeks. West Virginia found Coach Rod refining that offense whose primary mission seems to be to maximize the amount of time a poor defense spends on the field and demonstrate exactly why offensive gimmicks come and go, along with the coaches who employ them. Paul Pasqualoni at Syracuse cut short the amount of time he personally spent at Orange practices, instead taking note of the BE bowl situation and which team gets left out each and every time [three and counting] the conference has more bowl-eligible teams than bids, and he worked on that recruiting pitch of “Come to Syracuse and spend the holidays at home with your family” that worked so well last winter.
Spring practice brought all sorts of hilarity from the state one south of us, where college football has moved one more notch down in the sports pecking order, with hockey now joining college basketball, college basketball recruiting, discussing college basketball on the Internet and radio, reading books on college basketball by Dean Smith claiming that this mess wasn’t his fault since he told DickieB not to hire Matt, college basketball, golf, NASCAR, professional wrestling, cooking barbecue and college basketball ahead of college football.
Duke, where coach Carl Franks, one of the few and perhaps only coaches ever to hold on to his job despite going 0-11 in consecutive years, surveyed his squad and pronounced that they had a chance, albeit a slim one, of not being quite so miserably bad as they have been, but it was hard to tell, since they were only practicing against other Duke players. Franks also expressed optimism in Duke’s ability to compete with all of those I-AA teams that are steadily being added to Duke’s schedule. Of course, that is a couple of years down the road, so Duke has done the next best thing this year by adding fellow 0-11 aficionado Navy [where is the Duke-RUTSgers series when you need it?] in what should prove to be a titanic clash that, given NCAA overtime rules, has to produce a winner, even though it might take hundreds of overtimes.
At North Carolina, where the combined efforts of John Bunting and Matt Doherty are turning Carolina into a football school, a record Spring Game crowd of 1,100 joined the team in sitting around a campfire burning at midfield, holding hands and singing ‘Kumbaya’ and ‘Where Have All the Players Gone?’ while Bunting raged along the sideline demanding to know “Where are the real men?” certainly not the first time that question has ever been asked around Carolina. Across the Triangle, NC State countered with Spring Game Karaoke that invited fans to sing along to lyrics sung by coaches displayed on the new video board. 6,000 fans participated in a singing contest, with the winner receiving a call from Chuck Amato along with the job of Recruiting Coordinator. East Carolina coach Steve Logan discontinued the Pirates’ Spring Game, perhaps deciding that given his team’s spectacular collapse in whatever obscure bowl game that was and his fans’ penchant for throwing glass containers, it might be wise to wait as long as possible before showing his face in public again.
Down south, UAB coach Watson Brown cancelled his Spring Game after his school’s Trustees, taking note of the Blazers losing a cool $7 mil on athletics [ah, the joys of CUSA], threatened to shut down the entire athletic department if something wasn’t done to darken the red ink. Brown instead held a car wash and bake sale in an attempt at staunching the bleeding. It was unknown how much money was raised.
There was a coach, however, who brought back a Spring Game, or at least a facsimile. The Hoo Spring Game had been discontinued during the last years of the George regime, as George felt it was no longer worth the effort. He also felt recruiting or continuing to win seven games was no longer worth the effort either, so now the Hoos have algroh. The new Head Hoo declared his intention to bring back the Spring Game until he noticed that those traffic jams on Rugby Road consisted of players bolting the program, and he was not left with enough players to actually play a game.
The ingenious algroh was undeterred, however, and he promptly announced plans to conduct what he called the Hoo Football Festivus. Played before a whopping crowd of 7,000, roughly the number of fans usually left in Scott Stadium by the start of the fourth quarter, the Hoo Football Festivus got off to a rousing start with the selection of the official Festivus Pole from that large number located in one end zone. While the Feats of Strength seemed to be as lackluster as those shown recently in the McCue Center, the presence of George on the same field as algroh and former AD Terry Holland led to a terrific Airing of Grievances. You just can’t beat the Hoos for keeping things interesting.
Spring football has come and gone, giving us football junkies a badly needed fix. We now endure the tedium of the Dead Zone of sports for the next four months. It is not a good sign when it is barely May and I am already pining for August. I vote for another Spring Game.
Jim Alderson,who first made his mark with his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports. While Hokie fans currently have very little use for subject number 2, Alderson is an entertaining and informative columnist on subject number 1. For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.