Ole Miss, Lane Kiffin promise 'Party in the Sip.' Can they make spring football game fun? | Suss
OXFORD — The unspoken truth about spring football scrimmages is that they're usually pretty boring. Ole Miss is trying to change that.
Spring games, like Ole Miss' Grove Bowl on Saturday at 4 p.m., aren't necessarily bad. Only the true cynics would argue that having an excuse to watch college football in April is a bad thing. It's less that spring games are bad and more that they function as a bizarre, funhouse mirror version of college football where the stakes are removed and the beginning is almost always more engaging than the ending.
These are glorified practices, after all. Fans don't really have a reason to root for the red team over the blue team unless they have a loved one on the field. It's hard to decide if you should cheer or get mad after a big touchdown or turnover. It's cool to get a preview of what your team might look like in the fall, but schemes are usually so milquetoast in spring games that coaches might as well be using playbooks from Madden NFL 2001.
That's not the atmosphere Ole Miss and coach Lane Kiffin are promoting, though.
Kiffin, his staff and a number of his players are promising a "Party In The 'Sip" this weekend. Not a good scrimmage. A party.
Kiffin tweeted he has some "crazy things planned." Included among the bunch? Kiffin will be throwing out the first pitch at Ole Miss' baseball game, which is scheduled to start at noon Saturday, then he'll be hosting his own coaches' softball game at 3:40 in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The first 1,000 students in attendance get a free T-shirt and students are invited to sign up for a field goal kicking competition. There have been hints at a dunk tank but details are sparse.
Ole Miss even posted a video Wednesday of players turning the team meeting room into a literal dance club with bouncers and flashing lights.
"I think our social media people kind of made it look like I knew or that it was my idea," Kiffin said Tuesday. "I probably better figure it out. If it's going to be the biggest party, I probably better figure out what to do for it."
If Ole Miss wants to deliver on turning the Grove Bowl into a party, it's doing the right thing by focusing on fan experience. Spring games need to become focused less on the scrimmage itself and more like the spectacle.
In a way, spring games are the closest thing college football teams have to events like NBA and MLB All-Star games. Fans aren't interested in the outcomes of those games; they tune in for the looseness. They tune in for slam dunk contests and home run derbies and the chance to see superstars have fun while acting like kids instead of be mired down in the seriousness and gravity of competition.
That's why things like dunk tanks and coaches' softball games are a great step forward. But why not more? Why not turn Friday night into the Ole Miss skills challenge?
Pit the offense against the defense in relay races and punt-pass-kick competitions. See which linemen are the best at catching punts. Take a page out of the NFL's Pro Bowl playbook and set up a dodgeball game. Or make it a water balloon fight. Or a high-stakes game of freeze tag. Really do anything to let the players have fun and give the fans a chance to see it.
At the end of Friday night, hold a draft. Bring back two Ole Miss legends and have them draft the teams for Saturday's game. Stream it and host it live at Vaught-Hemingway or on The Square.
Go even further with the fan experience on Saturday. There's no reason Kiffin shouldn't be mic'd up the whole game. At the very least, he should have a megaphone. At the most he should be doing constant color commentary of the scrimmage like a wedding DJ. Coordinators usually run spring games anyway. Why not turn Kiffin into the master of ceremonies?
From there, do what you can to get fans involved. Maybe you let them use their phones to vote on play calls. Maybe you let them decide fourth-down decisions. Maybe you give them prop bets like which players will gain the most yards or make the most tackles and whoever turns in the most correct bingo card wins prizes.
There's no reason teams can't turn spring games into spring carnivals. Make the football game the main event, but give fans more reason to make a weekend trip to Oxford than just a chance to watch the second-string offense practice against the second-string defense.
Kiffin and company are promising a party. There's no reason that Oxford of all towns can't deliver.
Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.