Scrimmage Apples vs. Preseason Oranges

Demonstrating his ability to transition seamlessly from interviews to topical commentary, Bootleg special partner Dave Fowkes of aptly-named takes a look at the different approaches taken by the college and pro games when it comes to preparing for the regular season.

Scrimmage Apples vs. Preseason Oranges


As the NFL wraps up Week Three of its month-long preseason, Stanford players are getting ready to face their first opponent in a different jersey, and it will happen in a conference game in Week One of the real season. What a difference there is from the pros to college when it comes to preparing for the regular season.


"Coach Harbaugh last year put an interesting spin on it," redshirt sophomore tight end Coby Fleener said. "We are the only sport that does not have a preseason game. In basketball you have some (extra-squad) scrimmages, same with soccer. We are the only sport that does not."


For Stanford, just like every other NCAA school, there are nothing but practices and inter-squad scrimmages from the day training camp starts until the first game of the regular season.


The NFL meanwhile essentially "forces" its season ticket-holders to pay handsomely for two home events while the teams go on to play four-game preseason schedules in the name of getting prepared for the season.


The question of course becomes this - Is an NFL team more prepared for week one than a college team? In college, when the national championship ineligibility can be determined by a loss in the very first game of the season, you still see some conference games and other "made-for-TV" match-ups in week one. Boise State arguably has its entire season on the line (in regards to the BCS) in game one when they line up against the Oregon Ducks.


But the players seem okay with the way it is. "I kind of like it, just having the first game be the real thing," says junior defensive back Corey Gatewood. "Everybody comes out and gets the emotion out in one game, it keeps it real authentic. Once you get to the next level there are other things involved like endorsements, money, etc., so just having it raw in the first game really keeps it original."


"Original" seems to be a theme as Fleener picked up on the same thought. "I think of it as something that separates us from every other sport and I think that is interesting."


Junior linebacker Chike Amajoyi is one that would like to see a different color jersey at least once during training camp. "I would like at least one scrimmage to hit somebody else."


But even Amajoyi, while wanting to see some fresh meat, does enjoy the end result of things as they are now. "I would like to have a scrimmage against another team, but at the same time when you rev it up on September 5th, it will be even more exciting."


Despite the weeks of practice and the four-plus preseason games, there are plenty of mistakes made in the first couple of weeks in the NFL, just as there are in college. There seems to be no real advantage to the NFL system in terms of getting a team "ready to play".


By playing four preseason games, the NFL seems also to risk a greater chance of injury to their star players. In Week 3, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel went down with an injury that is being reported as a sprained knee and ankle. He is questionable for the start of the season. Tom Brady, after missing almost all of last year, was knocked from the game this weekend with what is being called a "bruised shoulder". With millions of dollars at stake for the NFL game, every preseason results in a handful of players seeing their seasons end early or at least delay the start of their campaigns.


College teams certainly risk injury during practices and scrimmages. Stanford has a few players that are banged up. USC just lost one of its starting wide receivers in an inter-squad scrimmage to a broken collarbone. But the risk of injury certainly seems reduced compared to the NFL game.


It is not to say that colleges never scrimmage against outside opponents. Back in 2003, Stanford scrimmaged, with ominously foretelling results, against Division-II (technically, provisional Division- I) UC Davis. Of course it was two years later that the Aggies beat the Cardinal during the regular season. UCD's football program has not been invited back since.


There are obviously economic advantages to the NFL model. In fact, in the ongoing discussions of the NFL trimming their preseason schedule, money is the main factor that could lead to an 18-game regular season so that the owners can still get the money at the gate.


Given the economic state of affairs, if the NCAA were to ever shift to more public scrimmages, you can be sure economics would play a major role in the decision.  I am sure Alabama could sell out a stadium by inviting the neighboring junior college in for a scrimmage. Preseason football would be welcomed by the powerhouse programs that already make big money in the regular season by scheduling Division-I-AA teams (for now I refuse to use the new moniker for the division) to beat up on. But for Stanford University and other schools that struggle to sell out regular season games, preseason or scrimmages could only be used for practice.


When the college teams lace them up for the first time this weekend, it will the first time at full game speed for each of them. They may have an idea for the game, they may try to duplicate the speed of the game in practice, but when the opponent is not your friend on the other side of the line of scrimmage, you just never know.


"You don't know exactly what you are going to get going into the first game," Fleener allows. "You have to make adjustments, and that is where the true players show."

Dave Fowkes is a longtime Stanford Cardinal fan. Born at Stanford hospital and raised on the Peninsula, he has been a football season ticket holder since 1981. In that span he has only missed three home games, but of course never a Big Game. Dave currently works in media both on the air and behind the scenes in advertising sales. He has covered sports on and off since 1992. Currently he works as a traffic, news and sports man on several Bay Area radio stations under a few different on-air aliases. Dave blends the passion of being a fan with the perspective of being a reporter in his stories. For more Stanford football coverage by Dave Fowkes, you can read the "Stanford Football Examiner" at  

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