It’s a sad reflection of the lack of fan interest in the Cardinal & White Spring Game that the annual scrimmage was moved to Cagan Stadium (the soccer field) this year instead of being played at Stanford Stadium, as it has been in years past.
While Nebraska is drawing 77,000 fans to its Spring Game and other, less extreme, examples of schools at least still make a good show of it for their fans, Cardinal nation’s bad turnout is indicative of the fact that Stanford’s Spring Game, in its current form, doesn’t give Stanford fans many meaningful reasons to turn out for the event.
Right now, the only reasons that I would go out to Spring Game would be to see the talented freshmen who redshirted last year (like Frank Buncom and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside) in action for the first time and to satisfy my thirst for football after three long months of offseason. That’s about it.
In terms of the things that actually matter — position battles, the playbook, getting a better idea of where the offense and defense are at — the game has precious little to offer.
Because David Shaw has no incentive whatsoever to show rival coaches what wrinkles he has up his sleeves for this upcoming season, he’s not going to play-call like he would in a real game; instead, he’s just going to call the bread-and-butter, day-one plays that don’t really have much entertainment value. These are plays that the defense knows are coming, which means that the competitive balance of the game is essentially meaningless.
Meanwhile, the format of the game all but takes the fans out of it anyway by pitting the offense against the defense for drive after drive after drive so that the game doesn’t even feel like a competition at all — it just feels like we’re intruding on a watered-down version of practice that the team is putting on out of obligation (which, in fact, is actually the case).
That’s not to mention a scoring system so pointlessly convoluted and confusing that even after three years of having dealt with it, it still takes me a few minutes and lots of head-scratching to figure out why the defense is getting 2 points instead of 3, and so on.
And the worst part is that for fans and media members alike, the Spring Game — as pointless as it is — is glorified and subject to endless scrutiny and premature conclusion-drawing because it’s the only exposure they have to the team in action during the long months of the offseason.
To that, I ask: If the Spring Game is utterly meaningless anyway, then why even pretend that it’s supposed to bring answers to our questions, or that it resembles anything close to an actual game of Stanford football?
With that in mind, I’d like to propose taking a page out of newly-minted men’s basketball head coach Jerod Haase’s playbook, transforming the Spring Game altogether into more of a fan festival and a day of entertainment — like the “Hoops on the Haasephalt” event that Haase spearheaded in his time at UAB to bring some fan energy back to the Blazers’ hoops program.
As part of the event at the end of UAB’s homecoming week, Haase went all-in on the showmanship, going for lights, fireworks, a huge stage, cheerleaders — the whole shebang. And instead of focusing on the actual basketball, he had short, exciting events that catered to fan enthusiasm, like a 3-point contest and a dunk contest. By all metrics, the event was a huge success down in Birmingham.
So something like that is what I propose Stanford football does with its Spring Game — it would certainly be unorthodox, but then again, Stanford has always been one to do away with convention in times of need.
Instead of focusing on trying to better introduce fans to their brand of football, the team should focus on better acquainting the fans with the players’ entertaining personalities and putting on a good show for the fans. As long as the coaches and players have to put on a Spring Game, why not at least have a little fun with it?
Have each of the offensive linemen compete in quarterbacking drills. Have the offense and defense switch roles for a drive (the defense, of course, would win behind quarterback-turned-safety Dallas Lloyd). Have non-specialists compete in punting and kicking drills. Trivia competitions. Mic somebody up. The possibilities are endless — and they’d certainly serve to inject some energy back into a fanbase that has no reason to care about the Spring Game right now.
Do-Hyoung Park and the rest of the Daily’s sports columnists will be having a slam-dunk contest, complete with cheerleaders, later this week at Arrillaga Gym. To find out more, email him at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.