Very interesting interview the other day with Rich Rodriguez on the subject of having a preseason game or two before the start of the football season. While I think you'd have to work through some issues to really hammer out the logistics of the idea, I don't see any reason why the NCAA shouldn't explore the possibility.
Here's Rodriguez's quote on exhibition games:
“If there was one rule to change in Division I college football, they would allow you to have a exhibition or preseason game against somebody else,” he said last week. “There doesn’t have to be any crowd or fans there, just so you have an idea of what it’s like to go against somebody else so you can judge yourself a little better.”
“All these (regular-season) games are so important and I wish we could have a scrimmage so we could have a judge on where we’re at.”
He goes on to point out that college football is the only level of football that doesn't play an exhibition game.
“We’re the only level (without,)” he said. “The NFL has four preseason games, and they’re pros, even on smaller college, when I was in Division II, you could have a scrimmage game. In high school, obviously you have them. In Division I, you can’t have them and it’s kind of silly.
I think Rodriguez is making a ton of sense here. Why not have an exhibition game?? Every other level of football is playing multiple preseason games, but college football teams don't play even one?? It's strange that this idea hasn't caught on before. College basketball teams all play 1-2 exhibition games a year.
The funny thing is that a lot of people around college football reacted to Rich Rodriguez's comments like he was proposing to have 12 players a side or something like that. I'm all for protecting tradition, but a common sense proposal like this one has merit.
Part of the reason why college football schedules have gotten so bad in recent years stems from the lack of a true exhibition game to prepare you for the season. Teams don't want to risk laying an egg in the opener against someone decent, so they schedule a cupcake to get an easy win to start the year. If you don't play well in your opener, you'll still be able to get by Louisiana Monroe with relative ease just on talent alone.
If you added an exhibition game to the schedule, teams could go into a season knowing what they have and maybe would feel a little more ambitious about scheduling some better nonconference games. You work out the kinks in the exhibition game, watch a little film to see what you need to work on, evaluate your players (think we wouldn't have minded an exhibition game before the 2007 season to see that the Demetrius Jones experiment was going to be a disaster??), and hope you can build on that exhibition performance to come out full throttle for the real opener.
There really would be no more excuses for teams to say that they couldn't afford to play better out of conference games. You already got your "cupcake" game out of the way in the exhibition. Heck, if you want to raise some money, you could even charge $30 a ticket or something for your exhibition game. Like one of these big schools wouldn't get 75,000 football-starved fans for one of those games?? Of course they would. I'm so geared up for football that I would go watch ND play St. Joe High School if you threw it out there. Chum in the water. So the school pockets an extra $2-3 million to keep the cash flowing, and they line up that big home and home because they aren't as desperate for the money of those "buy games."
I also just think it makes sense from a football standpoint. You can practice all you want, but you don't really know what type of team you have until you play another team. There's just no way to simulate a real game. The intensity level, the lack of familiarity, the nerves, the level of competition. I know it's still an exhibition game, but players are still going to be psyched up to play and run out of that tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium. I can't even imagine what emotions are running through the players' heads when they run out there for the opener. It probably takes half the game just to settle down a little bit. I would guess that an exhibition game would take away a little bit of those butterflies.
The exhibition idea isn't flawless of course. You've got injury concerns, and of course academic concerns. Ha...did I just say academics?? I know, I know, no one cares about academics in Division I football, but I don't want those Stanford players to miss out on their summer reading lists!! College presidents supposedly are worried about academics when it comes to a playoff system (again, I know that's completely laughable for them to even say that), so you would assume that they'll have similar concerns about a preseason game as well.
The injury thing could be a real factor though. If some big name QB went down in the exhibition game, teams might shy away from ever doing it again. Plus, you got some 18 year old freshmen on your roster who haven't gone through a summer conditioning/lifting program, and you don't want them getting hurt when you are putting in your backups and some D-IA team is treating the game like it's the Super Bowl. That kind of stuff might make big time programs nervous about playing games like that. Plus, one of these teams would inevitably sneak up and win one of these games just because their players were all jacked up to beat a big boy. Do coaches want to deal with that headache if/when that happens?? Think about the possibilities for overreaction to a loss in an exhibition game.
The other thing is how you schedule all these games. Are you going to scrimmage a DI-A team or a MAC team or another big name school?? Some teams might want to play a real game while other teams might just want someone else to have a glorified practice against. Do you "buy" these games as well?? There would definitely be some logistical issues that needed to be hashed out.
I still think it's an idea worth exploring. Maybe the NCAA could just legalize it and give teams the option to do it. No mandatory requirements. If you want to do it, go ahead. If you don't want to risk injuries or a loss, then you don't and you get ready for your opener.