The Northwestern Wildcats are coming off one of their most successful seasons in school history (at least in the last 50 years). Head coach Pat Fitzgerald appears committed to his alma mater and has settled in for the long haul with the Wildcats. But as Northwestern prepares to attempt to follow up their bowl appearance of 2012, will they undercut their efforts by opting out of a spring game scrimmage?
For most programs, the spring game is an opportunity to gauge where the team is at as they break for spring workouts before coming back together for fall camp in August. It’s an important barometer of how prepared the team is for game situations that can go a long way in directing the practice plan for the team when they start gearing up for games that matter. That “game” atmosphere can show coaches a lot about where their players are in their development.
But Northwestern is taking a different approach this spring. Instead of pitting the team against itself in a simulated game, they are focusing on fundamentals and drills, replacing the competitive spring game with an open practice for fans and media. Fitzgerald isn’t against the pop and pomp of a spring game, but he feels that there’s something more important to his team than finding out how mentally prepared they are for games next fall.
And that is their health. Northwestern is going through spring practice with 13 players sitting on the sidelines recovering from injury or surgery, including four offensive linemen. With no early enrollees to bolster their spring numbers, Northwestern just doesn’t have the depth to legitimately line up for a spring game (they are running with only eight offensive linemen during the spring).
So while it may be unorthodox and seen as a setback to the development of a consistent winner at Northwester, Fitzgerald is left with no other choice when it comes down to it. Once again, it’s the academically prestigious Northwestern making a rational, smart and ultimately boring decision.