Brad Rock: Spring football not an answer to Power Five

By Brad Rock, Deseret News

Published: Thu, July 24, 2014, 12:15 p.m. MDT

 SMU head coach June Jones gestures to a referee during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game against South Florida Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, in Tampa, Fla. SMU won the game 16-6. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

SMU head coach June Jones gestures to a referee during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game against South Florida Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, in Tampa, Fla. SMU won the game 16-6. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

(Chris O'Meara, AP)

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.

Email: rock@desnews.com; Twitter: @therockmonster; Blog: Rockmonster Unplugged

1. 2013 Ute Seniors SWEEP byU 4-0
Ogden, UT,
July 24, 2014


I love how these "have nots" are really scrambling to try and stay relevant. Its clear the power 5 are moving even further ahead past the mid majors. The playoffs are going to be open only to power 5 teams, which means the future of any mid-major is essentially over as for as being relevant on the national stage.

And no, no lawsuit will keep any mid major relevant.

We(the power conferences) can and will continue to discriminate.

Just as Wyoming and BYU can't file a lawsuit to get admitted to the Pac 12 or Big 12, no lawsuit will keep the mid majors within reach of the playoffs.

If they want to set up their own playoffs only for mid-majors, fine, we don't care.

I actually like the idea of mid majors playing football in the spring - it would be football almost all year long. And since that would be the only football on, I might even watch some mid-major games. AS is now, there is enough big boy football going on in the fall I don't think most of us bother paying any attention to the mid majors.

2. Meckofahess
Salt Lake City, UT,
July 24, 2014

I have a better idea. Let's tell the "Power 5" conferences to put it where the sun doesn't shine and boycott their games. College Football is a game that many people love and are passionate about. Unfortunately, now that we have hundreds of millions of dollars involved and some arrogant coaches (SEC coaches for example) making multi-million dollar salaries they have forgotten what this is all about. It isn't just about big bucks only - its about traditions and rivalries and just plain old fun - it's a game! If college football continues down the path it is headed on, I hope it falls apart as it will have lost the foundational principles it grew from and will become just a construct of greed and power!. How sad.

3. Kralon
July 24, 2014

There is something about this P5 splitting away that has started me thinking it will just become another professional or semi-pro sport. If that is the case, it is very possible that I will spend my time watching the amateurs who are referred to as the "have-nots" in this article.

I think it would be great if the have-nots were able to gather the larger viewing audience! How kool would that be?

4. DEW Cougars
Sandy, UT,
July 24, 2014

You got to be kidding June? We have college BB winding down, then to mega madness, spring mlb baseball/regular season, nba playoffs and more. Nope it won't work.

5. mufasta
American Fork, UT,
July 25, 2014

@2013 Ute,

I am struggling to see how you think that the "Power 5" discriminating against ANYONE is a good thing for college football. I appreciate that you are not a BYU fan but this isn't about BYU its about college football.

I can only assume any rational judgement in your case is clouded by your view that this is a BYU issue. As it stands, I have not heard one credible national source that thinks the path we are on is good for college football. Most decry it as bad including the Big 12 commissioner.

I am a supporter of ALL programs in the state. I am happy that Utah is a Pac12 member and I firmly believe that Utah State and BYU should always be considered for championship play if they play to that level. The current system, as proposed, would effectively eliminate 75% of college football teams from consideration. No matter who you cheer for, that can not be considered good for the game.

Be rational....