News & views: Michigan spring game is in name only
With Michigan’s final open practice on Saturday at Michigan Stadium, it felt like a good opportunity to explore some Michigan football "stuff": Here goes:
►News: Michigan is hosting a spring “game” on Saturday at the Big House.
►Views: After posting on Twitter the other day that the “game”— I’ve been using quotes all spring when discussing Saturday’s practice — will not be on BTN because the network wants to broadcast games, not practices, which is what this will be, that sparked outrage from several fans.
Michigan hosted an open practice last Saturday, but this is called a “game” probably keeping with the tradition of closing spring ball this way (however, there will be a couple more practices next week). Michigan has had annual spring games — not last year when it was canceled — to varying degrees of success in terms of fan turnout over the years. What will happen Saturday is individual and team drills and a controlled scrimmage during a portion of practice. Maybe I’ve been doing this too long, but while I can remember the playing of actual spring games, I can’t recall the last time there was a legit game without some weird scoring system. Anyone?
So the outrage I mentioned … some fans want to see a game. That was never going to happen. Not this year. Not with the installation of offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’ new offense and not with the number of injuries to key offensive skill players. And perhaps Don Brown doesn’t want anyone seeing how he might be making tweaks to the defense with new assistant coaches Shaun Nua and Anthony Campanile. It isn’t so much about being secretive — OK, yeah, who am I fooling?
That’s a big part of it — but it’s also about being far from a finished product. And didn’t Lloyd Carr long ago start drifting from spring games because of the number of injuries going into spring practice and the potential for more injuries in a game setting?
That said, there seems to be an even bigger issue for fans who believe Michigan football has become less accessible. The biggest move the program could make to engage the fans is returning the Fan Day before fall camp starts. I’m sure there are all sorts of logistics and security reasons not to do it, along with the fact it makes for a long day for the players and coaches who are about to get into crunch-time preparation for the season, but there is no better way to engage the fans, especially the youngsters.
So many people reached out saying they remember being kids getting autographs from Michigan players, and that's a special memory. If I were in charge, I’d limit spring practice to one open practice for fans and return Fan Day.
Oh, and while I’m in charge, I’d also bring back the Women’s Football Academy, which was always a huge hit and raised money for cancer research. Bottom line, while Michigan has referred to Saturday as a “game,” it has never said it would be anything more than a practice with some controlled scrimmage sprinkled in. So take it for what it is, a fun opportunity to be in the stadium and to see the players.
►News: Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has spoken to media twice this spring and divulged a lot of information.
►Views: Call me a cynic, but every coach I’ve covered has always been excited about the start of spring practice and the progress made. Always. There seems to have been a lot made of Harbaugh’s news conference last week when he filibustered for about 13 minutes discussing a depth chart. A depth chart! Wow! But Harbaugh doesn’t give out depth charts!
Maybe this is a sign of things to come this fall, but I can’t imagine that’s the case. Remember during the 2016 season when Harbaugh said “modern technology” is the most accurate way of knowing an opponent’s depth chart by looking at game film “and not relying on another PR director’s assessment of what the depth chart is.”
For as long as I can remember, I’ve called Michigan depth charts works of fiction. I remember a depth chart long ago that listed an injured player in two-deep. I believe what Harbaugh is saying is accurate. Why provide more information if you really don’t have to? Sure, it would be nice to have a depth chart for context, but he’s also right — if you’re paying attention to games, you have a pretty good idea of the two-deep.
So going back to last week, yes, he rattled off a bunch of names and where they are in the depth chart and I’m not disputing the legitimacy of what he said, but by no means is any of that going to be close to what will be the “real” depth chart this fall, not with so many players out. Take it for what it’s worth. As far as the list of injuries he shared, why not share them during the spring? With two open practices people would have noticed all the missing players, so that’s not a bad reason to get out front. No reasons to keep injuries behind the curtain during spring practice.
News: So you want to go to a Michigan game this fall, and you want to get a ticket early and not wait for the secondary market, which could fluctuate in your favor— or not.
Views: Michigan announced a couple ticket packet options on Wednesday, and while looking at prices of single-game tickets, I took a look at some old game stubs floating around. The opener against Middle Tennessee State on Aug. 31 ranges from $60 in the end zone to $100 in Victors. You want to see Michigan-Rutgers (are you sure)? You’re going to have to add $5 at each price level.
But the final four home games — Iowa, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State — that’s where the big bumps occur. The Iowa game ranges from $80-$135. But the final three rivalry games have five tiers of pricing that go like this: $145, $155, $170, $180, $190. Ouch, but that’s the price of attending a rivalry game. Looking around my desk I found a stub from the Michigan-Ohio State game in 1997. It probably wasn’t a good seat, but the ticket was $32. THIRTY TWO DOLLARS!
Found another from the UM-OSU game in 2009 and that was $65, and the last home game against Ohio State in 2017, have a stub from a $140 ticket. To be clear, this isn’t just a Michigan pricing thing. The Michigan-Ohio State game at Ohio Stadium last year was $168.
But, despite how the prices have exploded, in my opinion, any college football game is the best value in sports when you include the tailgating, bands, the atmosphere. There's nothing better. But this has also got me thinking again about Big Ten scheduling.
It has been annoying and remains that way that Michigan has both main rivals, Michigan State and Ohio State at home and on the road every other year. Michigan State plays at Michigan and Ohio State every other year. Split them. How difficult is this? It would make ticket packages more appealing if every year you had one rivalry game at home — not both at home in one year and both on the road the next.