The April 2022 issue of Hail Varsity is off to the print and on its way to subscribers now. Our latest features a bit of golf, softball and baseball, but it’s full of spring football as we try to assess where the Huskers stand entering an important offseason. Here’s this month’s letter from the editor to preview the issue. Make sure you don’t miss an issue by subscribing today.
How was your spring game? Disappointing? A blast? I’m sure you could find people expressing both sentiments.
It’s gotten tricky, this 15th practice of the spring, a game that is billed as a “game,” but feels less like one by the year. It’s been an interesting progression (see Mike Babcock’s column for the history here). At some point, the final practice of the spring became something people would show up to watch.
At some point, how many people would show up to watch became a way to differentiate Nebraska in the ultra-competitive recruiting market (see Greg Smith’s recruiting notebook). It remains that to whatever degree a prospective Husker is wowed by how many people show up for a practice in April, and if you’re looking for a way to summarize Nebraskans’ unique passion for Husker football, spring game attendance typically delivers.
But . . .
At some point, when we had a better understanding of people’s thirst for football and more networks in need of programming, spring games began to be televised. Putting on a show for the local fan base all of the sudden had some consequences. Why give a future opponent the same look you’d give to your most important stakeholders?
All of that leaves us with Nebraska’s 2022 spring game. In practice, it’s just another practice. In reality, it’s an important day to show recruits the unique passion of Husker fans. But, also in reality, however many show up might not see much because enemy eyes are watching.
That’s OK. Ironically, all of this change has only brought us closer to where we started—a practice that was never meant to be a marketing opportunity until people started to see the marketing potential in it. There was a time when––gasp––a football team would practice all spring and then it would just end.
I don’t mean this to sound anti-spring game. I’m not. It’s just that, for a variety of reasons, these scrimmages have been built up to something they were never designed to be, and now coaching staffs have an incentive to not make them even come close. We all voted, knowingly or not, for this outcome. It’s reality now.
Given the stakes of this particular year for Nebraska football, I’m OK with that. The spring game of fans’ and the media’s dreams—one that offered new information on the 2022 Huskers—probably would’ve offered a false sense of security given all the change that’s still to happen for Nebraska in the summer. It’s a vital few months in a high-stakes season for the Huskers (see Steve Marik’s story on what we learned, and didn’t, this spring). Things change more quickly, and year-round, now (see my story on what’s happened in the Big Ten so far).
In the past, maybe a spring game felt like a bookend. Right now, it feels like Nebraska’s work has just begun. That’s what this April issue is really about.
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.