June Jones: Crazy About Autonomy Or Does He Have A Point?
By Randy Sherman
The radical is no longer radical. What once was considered blasphemy in the FBS world has now become the new norm. Conference realignment, exclusive television networks and a playoff were once thought of as radical impossibilities. They are now realities. And with the recent shift toward autonomy for the “Big Five” conferences, well, the radical isn’t so radical anymore.
One coach who is known for embracing the radical — at least on the field — has recently offered up a radical idea of his own regarding the growing chasm in college football off the field.
This summer, Southern Methodist head coach June Jones offered an idea that rivals his cutting-edge offense in terms of forward thinking. Jones believes that the have-nots of FBS college football should play their schedules in the spring instead of the fall. The idea may seem far-fetched today, but so did a college football playoff a few short years ago.
Jones defines the have-nots as members of the American Athletic, Mountain West, Conference USA, MAC and Sun Belt. No offense, Boise State. The Aug. 7-ruling by the NCAA regarding autonomy for the power conferences shows that the NCAA agrees with Jones on at least who are the have-nots. The NCAA Board of Directors voted 16-2 to approve a package of new measures that allows members of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC to change some rules that all of the NCAA has played by for years.
We clearly now have two worlds in college football. So is Jones’ idea so radical? How would his idea work and should it be considered?
The Case For Spring Football Games
Let's first examine Jones’ opinion before traditionalists dismiss his idea. According to The Dallas Morning News, Jones said in a recent radio interview that he can envision a spring season in college football.
Said Jones via the DMN:
"I’ll go ahead and say it right now, I think the have-nots should go ahead and move to the spring just like the USFL did. I think that there’s an opportunity to do a complete other side of that division, and I think that if we don’t think that way as a group of have-nots, we’re going to get left behind.
"I can see in five-to-seven years, possibly, the public would demand to have the two leagues play, just like I think the USFL had in mind, originally, of the winner of the USFL playing the winner of the National Football League."
Jones came from the USFL as a position coach for the Houston Gamblers and Denver Gold before breaking into the college ranks. This alone shows he is a forward thinker willing to take a chance on a new idea. Jones sees the big picture and the future landscape. The power conferences are moving on without them and Jones wants SMU and other similar schools not to be left behind.
Moving some season schedules to the spring would give these schools television exposure without competing against the big boys. That is, of course, what is shaping these changes. As it exists, primetime slots on the best networks are dominated by the Power-Five members. A coach could sell this to recruits. Live programming is what the networks crave and this idea would give consumers year-around football. Student-athletes could get to the campus in the fall and have an entire semester to adjust to college life without being thrown right into football. College football junkies would have their dream of year-round football.
If the idea were implemented, it would create a layer of football between the FBS and FCS. Does that layer exist now? Certainly, but the have-nots still compete with the big boys…at least on paper.
The Case Against Spring Football Games
The main argument against spring football games is tradition, plain and simple. Football is for the fall. Would TV viewers watch in the spring? The schools playing in the spring would have to battle the perception that their games don’t matter and that “real football” is played in the fall.
Bowl games would be affected. The major bowls would be played as usual, but what would become of the myriad of other bowls? No one clings to tradition with more fervor than bowl officials.
The NCAA recruiting calendar would have to be revamped. If there were both fall and spring football, prospects would be recruited year-round with no lulls. The NCAA is strict on such issues and that is the major criticism of the idea.
There are also NFL Draft preparations to consider. NFL prospects playing in the spring would in the midst of their season during the NFL Draft evaluation period. Would NFL officials be open to a summer draft?
And what of scheduling? Who would Power-Five teams play outside of their conference slate? This move would require all Power-Five matchups. The TV networks would salivate, but would coaches agree to it?
Jones is right. The schools he describes as the have-nots are being bullied. If they do not protect their interests, they will be left behind. That will take some drastic measures. Many schools could drop football due to expense if this trend continues. Most of the arguments for the status quo are logistical issues that could be figured out. For the good of college football as a whole, Jones is on the right track.
Some would argue that what Jones should do is win some more games at SMU, go to a better bowl and get into the playoff. SMU is in Dallas, the heart of Big 12 country. Perhaps some mid-major success could lead to an invite. It worked for TCU. Every school aspires to be in a power conference, but the coming changes are of a radical nature, meaning that a maverick like Jones will someday look prophetic. College football junkies rejoice — year-round football is coming.