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A reminder that spring game attendance is useless, but some schools love it

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The spring football game or scrimmage season is underway with Duke getting in a spring scrimmage in Durham on Saturday. Illinois also hosted an open practice for fans. With the first taste of spring football on our hands, it is time to dive head first into the spring football attendance conversation for the 2017 season. But to sum things up before continuing, remember that spring football is not held in a uniform regard from conference to conference or program to program. The numbers clearly show that.

Over the past three years, I have taken the liberty of tracking spring football game attendance figures out of pure curiosity. What I have learned from the past three years is not exactly all that shocking. Big time programs tend to see a higher interest in spring football, which leads to a higher interest in spring football games and scrimmages, which in turn leads to higher attendance figures. Last year, Ohio State set a national spring game record by drawing over 100,000 fans to its spring football game. Georgia impressed everyone with its spring draw with over 90,000 fans showing up for a unique experience complete with a concert, topping perennial SEC spring game attendance champion contender Alabama in the process. Penn State, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Auburn continued to be among the nation’s leaders in spring game attendance with their usual big crowds. The same cannot be said for programs from the Group of Five, obviously, but even among the power conferences it is statistically clear the Big Ten and SEC are playing on a different playing field in the spring game attendance game compared to the Big 12 and Pac-12. The ACC tends to straddle the line.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when the spring game attendance numbers start to come together…

Not every school bothers to track attendance

In truth, most of the spring game numbers that are reported are actually estimates. That or it is an incredible coincidence that so many schools see an attendance figure that ends with a zero. In the three years I have tracked these numbers, Boston College, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Northwestern, and Texas are the power conference programs that have not reported or supplied a spring attendance figure for one reason or another. A large number of Group of Five programs do not track attendance figures either. Each school has their own philosophy in place over such a thing, so it is not at all shocking to see a good number of schools not pay extra care and scrutiny to such a figure.

Some games or scrimmages will not be played in a stadium

Sometimes a school will take its spring scrimmage outside of the typical home stadium, which means the attendance maximum will potentially be significantly lower than usual. Arizona State played its spring scrimmage on a soccer field last year. Notre Dame Stadium renovations forced the Fighting Irish to hold its spring scrimmage on a non-traditional field in 2015, resulting in a crowd of just 3,590 compared to crowds of over 27,000 in 2014 and 2016 in Notre Dame Stadium.

Stadium renovations are often the main reason a power conference program will move its spring game to a different venue, but that is not always the case. Not having access to a home football stadium also comes into play. Temple and Pittsburgh have each played their spring scrimmage on a practice field or a high school field in recent years, for example. Part of the reason may be having to fund a lowly-attended spring game in an NFL stadium. It’s just not worth it.

Texas A&M didn’t hold a spring game for two years (2014 and 2015) due to ongoing renovations at Kyle Field and an inability to figure out an alternative location that would comply with SEC spring game rules.

Weather can also be a factor

Some games get rained out. Some fans choose not to put up with the weather for a spring game.

Every school treats it spring game differently

Schools like Nebraska, Alabama, Auburn, Penn State and Ohio State have used their spring game to be the focus of an entire weekend or community event by making it a pretty big deal over years. Alabama lets fans run on the field for autographs. Penn State has a fair atmosphere outside the stadium. Some schools charge admission. Some schools simply open the doors and let the fans come and go as they please. There is no one way to handle a spring game. All of these different mechanics play into how the game is seen by fans.

In 2015, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio made it a point to have more fans than ever attend the Michigan State spring game. It almost worked, but it would be another year (and a Big Ten title) before Michigan State hit the 50,000 mark. Michigan experimented with making the spring game a Friday night event. It worked, although it struggled to match the buzz over the first spring game with Jim Harbaugh the previous year. Georgia organized an elaborate concert event around the spring game and led the SEC in attendance.

Schools will continue trying new and innovative ways to make the spring game something fans want to flock to, while others will treat it as nothing more than an afterthought. For example, are you surprised Wisconsin has failed to draw 10,000 fans each of the past three years? Considering how successful Wisconsin has been, that may seem odd to you, but Wisconsin simply doesn’t treat its spring game as much of anything at all.

Who will be the spring game champions of 2017?

It goes without saying the Big Ten and SEC will be the dominating forces in the spring game attendance standings. With the biggest stadiums and some of the top annual spring draws between them, nobody will stand much of a chance to keep the pace. Eight of the top 10 spring game attendances were seen in the Big Ten or SEC in 2016. The two outliers were Florida State and Clemson of the ACC. Both the Seminoles and Tigers appear to go against the grain compared to the rest o the ACC, although Virginia Tech was right in the mix last year.

Speaking of Clemson, the defending national champions are one of a small handful of power conference teams to see an increase of spring game attendance each of the past two years (Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan State, and USC are the others) during this ongoing three-year research. Coming off a national championship, it would not be a stretch to think Clemson may see another year of increased attendance this spring, weather pending. The past two College Football Playoff national champions (Alabama and Ohio State) each saw a higher spring attendance compared to the previous season before winning the national title.

We’ll update the spring game attendance records throughout the spring, so stay tuned to see how it all plays out this year. Spring attendance numbers are good for PR purposes and gives some fans one more thing to brag about in the offseason.

Ole Mis AD: Hugh Freeze would’ve been fired for cause if he hadn’t resigned

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In the end, regardless of how he chose to play it out, Hugh Freeze‘s time in Oxford would’ve come to an end.

Thursday night brought the stunning news that Freeze’s tenure as the head coach at Ole Miss had come to an end because of at least one call from his university-issued cell phone to a known escort service.  Freeze, to Yahoo! Sports, blamed the call on a misdial; Freeze’s now-former boss, athletic director Ross Bjork, led the same website to write that “further vetting of Freeze’s phone records disclosed a ‘pattern of conduct’ that led the school administration to confront Freeze this week.”

After meeting with Freeze Wednesday night and then again Thursday morning, the die had been cast for the coach.

Bjork said that if Freeze had not offered his resignation he would have been fired for cause, citing the “moral turpitude” clause in Freeze’s contract. Bjork said there was no buyout of the contract and no settlement.

“He admitted that conduct to us,” Bjork said. “None of us are perfect. Nobody in this room is perfect. I think we need to respect how he resigned and respect his privacy.

The infamous call in question — it lasted one minute, which gives at least some credence to Freeze’s claim that this one was a misdial — came to light as a result of Houston Nutt’s recently-filed lawsuit against Freeze, the university and other high-ranking school officials.  No other calls to that specific phone number were found in a review of an estimated 39,000 calls made from Freeze’s school-issued phone; “[h]owever, the school kept digging through the records and must have found additional troubling information,” the website wrote

Freeze’s admission to “that conduct” according to Bjork says as much.

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze resigns after discovery of phone calls to escort service

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Forget about Hugh Freeze being on the hot seat in Oxford. He won’t even be coaching a single game for the Rebels this fall.

Hugh Freeze resigned from his position as head coach at Ole Miss suddenly on Thursday evening, just a week after SEC Media Days. The resignation is effective immediately, and the school has announced co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Matt Luke will take over the head coaching responsibilities for the upcoming season as the interim head coach. It should be expected Ole Miss will conduct a search for a new full-time head coach as soon as possible, but an official hire being made before the start of the season remains in question.

The resignation comes after the school discovered a phone call to an escort service coming from his school-issued cell phone. And it apparently was not an accidental wrong number either.

According to a report from Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com, Ole Miss reviewed phone records tied to Freeze as far back as 2012. Earlier in the day, USA Today reporter Dan Wolken reported Freeze had made a phone call to the number associated with a female escort service. The phone call in the report occurred in January of 2016. How many phone calls were discovered by Ole Miss is at this time unknown. Once confronted with the phone numbers by Bjork, Freeze is said to have offered his resignation. Whether he voluntarily offered to resign or if he was pushed to resign by the school may never be known for sure, but given the heat on Freeze already following recent headlines it may be pretty easy to see how this all played out behind closed doors.

It has been a troublesome summer for Freeze. Just last week, he was targetted in a lawsuit filed by former Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt, and Freeze has had to deny any members of his staff knowingly violated any NCAA rules following an investigation into the program. Freeze was previously targeted in a lawsuit filed by the stepdad of former Ole Miss player Laremy Tunsil just months after the NCAA discovered 13 violations against the Ole Miss program under the leadership of Freeze last year.

In five seasons at Ole Miss, Freeze was 39-25 and coached Ole Miss to a 2-1 record in postseason bowl games. Along the way, he recruited some of the best classes in school history, although how he and his staff managed to do so has been the subject of plenty of scrutinies and the findings continue to come together to suggest foul play was used. Calls to escort services will not help that look at all. Before being hired at Ole Miss, Freeze coached Arkansas State to a 19-3 record in 2011.

Luke, an Ole Miss alum from the Class of 2000, joined the Ole Miss coaching staff in 2012 with Freeze.

Todd Graham subtly names Manny Wilkins starting QB at ASU, says Barnett will have to win the job

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Arizona State picked up a nice addition to the depth chart with the addition of quarterback Blake Barnett this past winter. Barnett was given the chance to be immediately eligible to play for Arizona State this season rather than have to sit out a season, but he will have to get to work in order to win the starting job with the Sun Devils if Todd Graham‘s latest comments are accurate.

Speaking to media today at a facilities tour, Graham was asked about the quarterback competition. Graham not-so-subtly named Manny Wilkins the team’s starter for the 2017 season, barring any other changes between now and the start of the season.

“I didn’t make an announcement, I just didn’t want our opponent know who was going to play but I thought our opponent knew, I think everybody knew,” Graham said, referring to a season-opening game against New Mexico State. “We have a returning starter and he’s the starting quarterback until someone beats him out.”

Perhaps most notably, one of the quarterbacks who will look to knock Wilkins off the top of the depth chart will be Barnett, the transfer from Alabama who was a major recruit for the Crimson Tide not so long ago. Barnett started the  2016 season as Alabama’s official starter but lost the full-time job to Jalen Hurts right out of the gate with a shaky performance in the season opener while Hurts put on a show (and led Alabama to the national championship game). Barnett then opted to leave the program in search of a new opportunity to compete for the starting job.

“Right now, we have a starting quarterback and Blake knows he has to beat him out,” Graham said. “I’m looking forward to see that competition and a very physical, Sun Devil tough training camp.”

Report: Alabama RB B.J. Emmons, CB Aaron Robinson leaving program

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The Alabama Crimson Tide may not be hurting on the depth chart as a result, but two players are leaving the program in search of other opportunities. Running back B.J. Emmons and cornerback Aaron Robinson are both leaving Tuscaloosa, according to a report from AL.com.

As the news was breaking, multiple reports say Emmons has enrolled at Hutchinson Community College. Emmons missed some games last season due to a foot injury, but he is expected to be back to 100 percent health this fall. Of course, at Alabama, the running back position is stacked and difficult to get much playing time to begin with. Robinson was also expected to be a backup for Alabama this fall after working with the second team unit in the spring.

Emmons was Alabama’s fifth-leading rusher in 2016 with 173 yards and a touchdown in seven games. Robinson appeared in 13 games and recorded five total tackles as a freshman.

Both Emmons and Robinson will be eligible to play for another FBS program starting in 2018 after sitting out the 2017 season, due to NCAA transfer rules. They are eligible to play at a lower division school this fall, whether it is an FCS or lower program or a junior college. The junior college route appears to be the path Emmons is taking by enrolling at a community college.