Florida football: Billy Napier open to playing opponent in spring game

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun
Florida Gators head coach Billy Napier talks with Florida Gators tight end Hayden Hansen (89). The University of Florida Football team held  their 2023 Football Spring Practice Tuesday afternoon, April 4, 2023 at Sanders Football Practice Field at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL. [Doug Engle/Ocala Star Banner]2023 t

Count Florida's Billy Napier as the latest SEC football coach who thinks the time has come for schools to consider playing opponents in spring games.

Florida's Orange and Blue game on Thursday at The Swamp (7:30 p.m., SEC Network Plus) will give fans a glimpse of new faces and new schemes in a controlled intra-squad scrimmage. But imagine if instead of playing a first-team offense against a first-team defense, Florida chose instead to invite UCF, South Alabama or perhaps even Miami to Gainesville for the springtime tussle.

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"I would have no issue at all with that," Napier said. "I think there'd be a lot of positives that come from it. I've heard all the comments out there, and I agree wholeheartedly. I love the concept of charging admission and giving the money to charity. I think that's fantastic, and I think within your footprint. At the National Football League level, it's done."

Not a new concept

The late Hall of Fame Georgia coach Vince Dooley was one of the first to advocate spring games against other teams more than 40 years ago. Last week, new Auburn coach Hugh Freeze created a stir when he suggested that Auburn play UAB, or Alabama play Troy, in spring games.

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The NCAA would need to alter its language on competitions for it to happen at the FBS level, but Division II recently approved a proposal to play spring games against opponents beginning in 2024.

How much support would it receive? Alabama coach Nick Saban and former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops have opposed the idea in the past, saying spring practice needs to focus more on development and less on competition. But both are starting to come around. Saban said last week he'd support Alabama scrimmaging against an in-state school in the spring if it was helpful for the state. Stoops said last week he would "love" to see Oklahoma play someone else.

Another factor is injury risk, which can be more closely managed by one coach in an intra-squad scrimmage setting. But Napier said there could be opportunities for two coaches to create an exhibition format that reduces injury risk.

"The coaches could come to an agreement about conceptually what it looks like, what situations you're going to work," Napier said. "It would be entertaining for the fans, and I think you’d probably get some TV time to be part of it. So, no issue at all.”