Interest grows for spring gameFargo — A crowd of 78,526 watched college football at the University of Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium. In Austin, Texas, about 46,000 fans watched the University of Texas play at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
By: Jeff Kolpack, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
Fargo — A crowd of 78,526 watched college football at the University of Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium. In Austin, Texas, about 46,000 fans watched the University of Texas play at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
A college football Saturday afternoon in the fall?
Those were the announced crowds for each school’s respective spring football games, an annual intrasquad scrimmage that is mostly a showcase for the immediate future. It’s a big deal at several Division I Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
The University of Nebraska had thousands of fans who paid $10 per ticket for its game last Saturday, a scrimmage that was canceled at the last minute because of the severe weather that hit the Midwest. Penn State is expected to draw about 75,000 this Saturday.
You won’t see that spring fever in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision, although North Dakota State is seeing a spike in activity this week. The annual Green vs. Gold scrimmage on Saturday is being televised statewide for the first time by KVLY and the North Dakota NBC Network.
“There’s a lot of viewer interest in the Bison, and it wasn’t a hard thing to pull off,” said Jim Wareham, Valley News Live president and general manager.
The shorter game duration – the second half is usually on running time – is fine with the network. Wareham said the station wants to switch to the NHL playoffs as quickly as it can anyway.
NDSU’s game last year drew 3,051 fans, the most ever. NDSU associate athletic director Troy Goergen said anything more than 5,000 on Saturday would be considered a very successful day.
There are two reasons for the higher crowd estimate: The Bison are coming off an FCS national championship, and the season-ticket base went over 10,000 for the first time in program history.
NDSU also put more advertising expense into this year’s spring game.
“We’ve been talking since Jan. 8 that there is a pent-up desire to get back out there and experience Bison football,” said Goergen, referring to the Jan. 7 title game. “We made the decision over the offseason to treat the spring game like a regular game day.”
That includes opening tailgating lots at 9 a.m. It includes the TV coverage.
“People hear the game is on TV and that puts a different level on it,” Goergen said.
The levels of top FCS programs across the country vary. Appalachian State (W. Va.), for instance, doesn’t have a spring game, a decision made by head coach Jerry Moore.
“Coach Moore is allowed 15 days to practice, and he wants to practice for 15 days,” said Mike Flynn, the assistant athletic director for sports information at Appalachian.
The Mountaineers did open one Saturday practice to the public in March and about 1,000 showed up on a rainy day, Flynn said.
“Most (FCS) programs have a spring game, but I would say we’re the exception to the rule,” he said.
The Grizzlies deviated from recent tradition by holding a scrimmage event at its Washington-Grizzly Stadium to bring attention to new lights that were installed. Billed as “Saturday Night Lights,” it drew 8,731 fans, most likely the best FCS spring game showing in the country. Tickets were $5.
“They made it a game atmosphere,” said sports information director Dave Guffey.
Montana has held past spring games at other in-state cities like Billings, Helena and Great Falls. Next year, it’s scheduled for the small town of Ronan.
Sam Houston State
The runner-up to NDSU in the FCS title game had its annual Orange vs. White scrimmage on Wednesday night. Sports information director Paul Ridings said head coach Willie Fritz instituted the weekday event as a way to attract more students, who often leave the Huntsville, Texas, campus on weekends in the spring.
Last year, the game drew between 1,000 and 2,000 people, more than double past spring games, Ridings said.
The Blue Hens also keep a weekday theme, holding their annual game on a Friday night. It usually draws around 2,000, said sports information director Scott Selheimer.
An alumni golf outing is held earlier in the day.
Selheimer said the coaching staff did away with a splitting-sides, regular-game format in favor of a modified scoring system between the offense and defense.
“It’s kind of low key,” he said. “It’s nowhere close to what a regular game would be.”
Approximately 2,500 saw the Blue defeat the White 16-6 last Saturday at Paulson Stadium.
Team members conduct a youth football camp prior to the game.
“It was a great crowd and a great day,” head coach Jeff Monken said on the team’s website.
Kolpack is a sports writer at the Fargo Forum