SALT LAKE CITY – Maybe it’s because June Jones spent too much time in the sun, back in his Hawaii days. Or because, now that he’s in Texas, he’s doing things the Texas way: as he darn well pleases.
Whatever the case, the Southern Methodist University football coach recently raised a previously unthinkable scenario by suggesting schools from non-Power Five conferences play their games in the spring.
Birds chirping, flowers blooming, tacklers tackling
It’s not like they’d have any competition, other than, well, baseball, the NCAA basketball tournament, golf and Major League Soccer. Plus they would almost certainly have to deal with football fatigue. As much as people say they could watch football all year, part of the game’s appeal is that it isn’t a yearlong thing. It’s a 4 ½ months, compared to seven or eight months for baseball, hockey, soccer and basketball.
Football is king and there’s nothing even close. A Harris Poll conducted for ESPN in January showed that, for the 30th straight year, the NFL is America’s favorite sport. Major League Baseball is a distant second, but only slightly ahead of college football. So that’s Jones’ idea: put college football up against its closest competitor.
Before writing his idea off as the ranting of a crackpot, remember this: it is. Jones, formerly the Hawaii coach, apparently isn’t worried about the confusion it would cause in recruiting. If a player is thinking of playing at Nevada, does that mean he signs his letter of intent in June instead of February? What if he’s deciding between Power Five Cal and non-Power Five Fresno State?
Not to mention potential problems with non-conference scheduling.
On the bright side, it would give new meaning to the term "spring game."
Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson termed the proposal “preposterous,” this week at the conference preview, adding there is “no chance” such a change would be considered. American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco told ESPN.com his league has “no interest in doing that and have no plans to discuss or look into it.”
The impetus behind the discussion was an interview Jones, the former Hawaii coach, had with 620-AM radio in Tampa.
"I think the have-nots should go ahead and move to the spring just like the USFL did,” he said. “I think that there's an opportunity to do a complete other side of that division, and I think that if we don't think that way as a group of have-nots, we're going to get left behind. I can see in five-to-seven years, possibly, the public would demand to have the two leagues play, just like I think the USFL had in mind, originally, of the winner of the USFL playing the winner of the National Football League."
But the USFL doesn’t exist, partly because nobody wanted summer football. (It switched to fall for its final season.) And it never did play the NFL champ. Same with the Arena Football League, which closed in 2009 before reinventing itself -- which, by the way, would also be competition for a new college football division.
As for the non-power conferences finding a niche, that’s debatable. If Central Michigan vs. Kent State seems irrelevant now, wait until they’re playing in May.
The number of non-autumn football leagues that struggled or failed (WFL, USFL, XFL, AFL) is proof enough. Just for good measure, there was the short-lived UFL, which did play in the fall but found no audience.
Meanwhile, small conference commissioners oppose the suggestion, traditionalists abhor it and TV audiences would ignore it. Dividing the seasons would further distance smaller programs, not define them. They would be viewed like Triple-A baseball.
According to legend, a former Albuquerque sports writer used to arise late and walk down the street to the same restaurant for lunch, ordering the same menu item, every day for decades. It became a conditioned response. But one night the place burned down. The next day he walked to the restaurant, as always, and stood for a few minutes where the doorway used to be, wondering what had changed. It wasn’t until he snapped out of the trance that he realized there was nothing left but ashes.
Likewise, college football fans will be going to the same places, at the same times, forever. At least until the house burns down.
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