One of our recent interests here at Your Best 11 has been getting the word out about spring scrimmages, which appears to be picking up steam in the coaching ranks.
We first reported the idea in March, when Dabo Swinney was pushing the plan for the second time. Brady Hoke at Michigan then picked up the flag and trumpeted the merits of his guys getting some live experience. Then the AFCA chimed in about the possibility of discussing the measure at the group's next big meeting.
As the topic grows in popularity with coaches around the country, there have been pockets of opposition. Nick Saban and Bob Stoops have commented that they like the current spring agenda and have no desire to explore bringing another team in to scrimmage. If the agenda passes they could be among the coaches who opt not to take advantage of the option.
Enter Will Muschamp, who, like his mentor Nick Saban, is not a fan of the possibility. He makes those points pretty clear to Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times. Not a ringing endorsement. In fact, Muschamp goes so far as to say the idea is not feasible, in addition to being something he doesn't support.
While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, one thing about Muschamp's retort does stand out:
Spring, to me, is for developing players. It's for a new coach putting his systems in, schematically on offense and defense.
His answer doesn't even make sense.
Nowhere in the ideas of Dabo Swinney or Brady Hoke, the two most vocal advocates for the exhibition, do they include rhetoric counter to the principles of developing talent or installing a system. That's what spring football is all about, for every team. Programs get 15 sessions in the spring; those practices are a mix of scrimmages and drills for fundamentals. Adding a live-action exhibition against an opponent does not alter that mix—it enhances it.
This movement is not about showing your coaching mettle by seeing if you can game-plan and beat a team that comes to town for an exhibition. This movement is about getting a look at your own players against someone that they don't live, work and play with on a daily basis—a look at your guys against a different offense or defense and a different scheme.
Contrary to Muschamp's point, in the grand scheme of actual football, seeing a different opponent in a controlled exhibition session is a phenomenal way to evaluate your players.
Against an opponent, Muschamp would get a chance to see how well his defense understands the scheme and adjustments. Do his linebackers know their auto-checks for a pro-set that shifts into a bunch formation they have not seen all spring? Sure, his wide receivers have been working hard, but let's see how they handle new coverages.
Spring ball, with or without an opponent, is not about wins and losses. It is about seeing how far your team has come and how much further they have to go before their first game. Spring games are solid assessment tools, but an exhibition against an outside opponent would be another tool to gauge growth and learn where to focus the teaching efforts.