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Rosenthal: Spring football continues to grow



“After further review, prior to the spiking of the pass, the clock went to zero. The game is over.”

Those historic words from referee Brad Allen capped off a fantastic season for the Oregon football team. But since then, it’s been nothing but allegations of NCAA violations, closed practices, and — though I continue to contest it should be a nonissue — the recent ESPN: The Magazine story.

But fear not Duck faithful, because (cue voiceover from the monster truck commercials) the blurry offense, the play cards and the visor return to Autzen Stadium this Saturday, April 28, for one day only!

It figures to be compelling, too, because unlike much of spring football, the Ducks don’t showcase their first-string players against the second team. Where’s the fun in that?

Instead, the Ducks coaching staff holds a draft to select two “first” teams.

On one team, Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas, and on the other, Bryan Bennett and Kenjon Barner. With battles at the quarterback — and arguably running back — positions, the game figures to an exciting matchup with lots of talent on both squads.

At this point we’ve all heard a lot of good things about Mariota, but with practices closed we haven’t seen much from him at all, and who hasn’t been eager to see what Thomas will do as a first option in the backfield? Seeing those two run the offense together is quite the tempting “what-if?”

On the other team is a quarterback in Bennett who had to take the wheel of the Ducks’ season when Darron Thomas was injured, and a running back in Barner who has spent three years playing second fiddle to LaMichael James. Both will be looking to prove they’re the real deal, too.

Tens of thousands of fans are expected to donate a few cans of food, bask in the (please) Oregon sun and take in an afternoon of Duck football while paying tribute to our nation’s armed forces.

Charitable, patriotic, entertaining — I honestly can’t think of a single thing wrong with that.

But it’s a practice.

I mean, we talking about practice. Not a game, not a game, not a game — but practice. This is not the game that the Ducks go out there and die for and play every game like it’s their last, we talking about practice, man!

Okay, that’s enough of that nonsense.

The fact remains, though, that Saturday’s game is just one of 15 practices this spring and many more over the summer. What you see on the field Saturday might not reflect how people have been playing.

Round-the-clock airings of SportsCenter and the gaggle of college football blogs on the Internet have created a culture in which fans consume so much college football that the idea of going to a glorified scrimmage in practice tempers that offseason withdrawal.

Across the country, attendance at these “games” is skyrocketing. Washington State is expecting 10,000 fans at its spring game for Pete’s sake @@http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2012/04/21/1912157/[email protected]@.  That can’t be too far off of its regular season average.

Some SEC schools — where “real” college football, so they say, is played — come close to filling their 80,000 seat stadiums for spring games. Some even charge up to $15 for a general admission ticket @@http://espn.go.com/blog/bigten/post/_/id/48709/[email protected]@.

As college football becomes bigger, the spring game will become bigger too. How long will it be until the spring game isn’t enough to satisfy our thirst for college football? Could a summer game be on the horizon?

We’ve developed such an appetite for college football that we need some sort of new information about it as often as possible, however significant it may be. The spring game enables that obsession.

I want to hate the idea of spring games, I really do. It’s akin to liking your own Facebook status. It’s an athletic department essentially saying, “We’re so awesome that 40,000 people will watch us practice.”

But hey, it’s college football. I need my fix.


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