The track vs. football debate

It's natural that the schools with the two finest SEC track programs -- Arkansas and Tennessee -- benefit the most from athletes looking to participate in both track and football.

The downside comes each spring, when some of their two-sport stars opt to participate in outdoor track, rather than spring football.

Three of Tennessee's key gridders -- cornerback Jabari Greer, cornerback Robert Boulware and wide receiver Jonathan Wade -- picked track over football this spring. Defensive coordinator John Chavis seemed less than thrilled by the absence of Greer and Boulware. Although he chose his words carefully, he hinted that players who miss spring ball risk losing their spots on the depth chart.

''Unless you're working on your skills, you may not lose anything from where you are but other guys (who ARE practicing) move on and go forward,'' Chavis said.

Perhaps sending a message to Boulware, Chavis announced in May that one of the starting cornerback jobs would go to either redshirt freshman Antwan Stewart or sophomore Jason Allen, the only two scholarship corners who participated in spring practice. Still, the coordinator said that the Vols who missed spring drills to run track won't be penalized.

''Those guys will be given an opportunity to compete, just like everybody else,'' he said. ''We're going to play the best players, whoever the best players are. The guys who are running track, hopefully, will be doing something to help them become better football players also.''

Greer's absence from spring drills may not have been too detrimental, since he's a rising senior with three years' experience in UT's schemes and coverages. But there is no doubt that Boulware and Wade -- two inexperienced players with excellent potential -- could've benefited greatly from spring practice.

Like UT's football program, Arkansas benefits from a thriving track team that features several two-sport stars. Head football coach Houston Nutt accepts that some of his key performers will miss spring practice each year to run outdoor track.

  Arkansas head man Houston Nutt

''Naturally, I'd love to have them practice football,'' he said during a recent SEC coaches teleconference. ''But when I go into a living room and sell the fact that they're going to have a chance to wear a national championship ring (in track), you've got to keep your word. That's the reason you're able to sign a Richard Smith, an Ahmad Carroll, an Eddie Jackson.''

Still, Nutt is determined to ensure that his athletes don't use outdoor track as an excuse to escape the rigors of spring football.

''The rule is very simple: You can stay on the track team as long as you contribute to the track team with points,'' he said.


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