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Morris: Taking the spring game for a ride

ADMIT IT, SPRING football games are a waste. Coaches don’t like them. Players despise them. Fans tolerate them.

Very little is gained by playing these annual rites of spring. Coaches seldom, if ever, make decisions on starting positions. A standout performance almost always is qualified with the disclaimer that it happened in the spring game. Fans become either delusional or paranoid in their evaluations.

Spring games serve no purpose. Discontinuing these nonsensical events would do everyone a favor, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon. So, perhaps, it is better to help programs such as South Carolina salvage what is otherwise an unsalvageable event.

Schools around the country brag to no end about the number of fans who show up for these spring games. Nebraska sold out its stadium. Alabama and Florida drew in excess of 60,000 fans.

Those programs have it all wrong. It should not be about a program boasting that it has the best fan following. Rather, it should be about rewarding loyal fans, no matter the number.

Presbyterian took a step in that direction this Saturday by holding a carnival outside Bailey Memorial Stadium. USC should take it a step further. The annual spring game should be the biggest and best annual festival in Columbia. Close off Bluff Road and George Rogers Boulevard around Williams-Brice Stadium and do not allow parking on the stadium grounds.

The all-day festival should be geared toward taking every fan’s attention off the game itself. Teams have been playing these games for decades, and not one coach or administrator has found a way yet to make them exciting. So, forget about the game.

Outside the stadium, provide live bands on every corner, a roller coaster and food galore. Sell beer. How about hide-and-seek games for kids, using the thousands of empty condos in the Bluff Road area for playgrounds. Conduct a barbecue cook-off.

Most importantly, require the coaching staff and players to join in the fun. Players should be required to wear their jerseys and sign autographs. To raise a little extra cash for the athletics department, set up dunking booths. Those players who have off-season scrapes with the law should be required to get dunked, although USC officials might have to borrow a few booths from neighboring cities.

Who is going to pay for all this? Well, I’ve got that problem solved with an easy way to raise a quick $100,000.

There were about 100 plays in both the Clemson and USC spring games. There are bound to be 100 fans at each school who would pay $1,000 each to serve as Tommy Bowden’s and Steve Spurrier’s play caller of sorts.

USC, or Clemson for that matter, would line up the “lucky” 100 fans, and one by one each would stand next to Spurrier or Bowden during the game. One fan at a time would get the play call from the head coach, sprint to the field where he or she would bark out the play in the huddle, then sprint to the opposite sideline.

Clemson jazzed up its game somewhat this year by holding a flag football game among former players. The flag game was much more entertaining than the actual game. Maybe that was an indicator that the spring game is more suited to flag football.

Spurrier also took a couple of steps this year to spice things up. He finally got his “off-the-bench” play to work with son, Scott, hauling in a 46-yard touchdown pass as the 12th man on the field.

More importantly, Spurrier allowed any defensive player who scored a touchdown to “dance a little” in the end zone. When safety Chris Culliver returned a fumble 83 yards, he front-flipped for the touchdown.

That was a good start. What teams should do is conduct an after-the-play dance competition. Dances after sacks. Dances after touchdowns. Dances after fumble recoveries. Bring in a couple of state legislators — since they continue to believe they should control all levels of athletics in South Carolina — to judge the competition.

It is all in fun, something spring games have sorely lacked since their inception decades ago. Bring in the clowns. Round up the bands. Hire the face painters. Anything to divert our attention from the world’s most boring annual sporting event.

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