Homebound: Most college football teams stay local for spring practices
Teams that hold spring practice sessions out of town each year believe it prepares their players for road games while providing a chance to connect with fans and attract recruits.
Yet, the vast majority of programs still choose to hold spring workouts on campus.
Of the 86 Football Bowl Subdivision programs that responded to an Associated Press survey, only seven had spring practice sessions out of town and away from its home stadium this year: Arkansas, Florida Atlantic, Memphis, Oregon, Oregon State, Texas Tech and Washington State. There are 129 FBS programs, to the AP heard from 67 percent of them.
Memphis said it spent $18,000 to conduct a practice in Brentwood, a Nashville suburb about a 3 1/2-hour drive from campus. Memphis wanted the excursion to resemble its road-game routine as much as possible so players checked into a hotel and ate a meal, though they didn't stay overnight. The cost included bus transportation, hotel fees and meals and pizza for the drive back to Memphis.
"To be able to take our program on the road and be able to showcase that across the state and in a community where there are so many people celebrating the Tigers, it provides us a wonderful time as a team to be able to go away and to be able to have that experience," Memphis coach Mike Norvell said.
Arkansas held its spring game in Little Rock because of construction at its home stadium in Fayetteville. Florida Atlantic held scrimmages in Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Oregon had a practice at Portland and Oregon State conducted one in Beaverton, Oregon. Washington State had its spring game in Spokane for an eighth straight year. Wyoming spent between $3,000 and $4,000 to hold a spring practice session last year in Casper, about 150 miles from campus.
They are the exceptions. Most college programs stay on campus for spring practice, noting the cost of moving out of town for just one workout outweigh the potential benefits.
"You don't have a ton of time and contact hours with your team," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "If you can create an opportunity off campus, it makes sense, but the logistics are hard. And it's expensive. I know, well, you're talking about expenses at Notre Dame, but the reality of it is, is it worth the expense of shipping your players off campus? And you generally have to take up some of their free time to do it. I don't see (what) the net benefit is of doing it off campus."
The idea of sending teams out of town garnered plenty of attention in recent years when Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh sent the Wolverines on spring-break trips to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, and to Rome. Power Five schools responded last year by voting to prohibit coaches from taking teams off campus for practice during any vacation period outside a sport's season . Michigan left for Paris this week, but no practices were planned.
For the last six years, Texas Tech has held at least one spring workout in Midland, Texas, about a two-hour drive from campus. The Red Raiders also visited the Dallas Cowboys' Frisco headquarters this spring.
"It's incredible to have 300 recruits watching your program and your product, and to have our incredible Dallas alumni base who show up in droves every time we're in this area," Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said after the Frisco scrimmage. "And it's great for our players to work the travel process, (experience) a new environment and come out here and have to play here in front of a bunch of people."
Florida Atlantic even found a way to do some community service while heading off campus. The Owls' Fort Lauderdale scrimmage included a youth camp in which proceeds benefited families affected by the deadly shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Other coaches believe the benefits of conducting a scrimmage out of town are outweighed by the drawbacks.
Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey held a practice in Chicago two years ago and decided afterward it wasn't worth the trouble. He hoped the practice would help attract prospects but determined that a much bigger benefit comes from having potential recruits actually see the campus. Recruits are permitted to attend the off-campus practices, but coaches can't have any contact with them in that setting.
Carey also said his team didn't practice effectively after a long bus ride.
"I won't do that again," Carey said.
Every situation is different, too. While Memphis or Wyoming or Northern Illinois might be trying to raise their profile with an off-campus practice, sometimes it's not needed. For instance, South Florida coach Charlie Strong noted he didn't need his team to visit other parts of Florida to attract recruits because Tampa already features so many prospects and is easily accessible to many others.
Houston is in a similar position and wanted to keep things as simple as possible this spring after making multiple staff changes, though Cougars coach Major Applewhite said he might take his team out of town next spring. Texas Tech, located in a less populous area of the Lone Star State, benefits more from traveling to areas that might have plenty of recruits.
Wyoming is the lone FBS program in a geographically large state with a small population. The Cowboys previously have held spring practice sessions in Cheyenne and Casper. Although a scheduling conflict prevented them from leaving campus this year, they intend to make one of these trips again next spring as a way to reach out to its fan base.
"You really have to be in a unique position to take a scrimmage or spring game off your campus," Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said. "It has to be someplace where there's going to be a pretty significant amount of interest. What you find at the majority of Group of Five schools, they're in a location where there's not really a significant alumni base someplace else and it might not be worth uprooting everything. We're in a unique situation."
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.